My name is Robert Hoadley and I am the Corporate Contract and Lease Administrator at Evans Hotels.* To be frank, the mere fact that I am here at all today is truly a miracle.
On April 1, 2011, I suffered a sudden cardiac arrest at work. I was 41-years-old and was training to join the U.S. Navy Reserves and in possibly the best physical condition of the last 20 years when, without warning, my heart stopped. I collapsed.
Everyone at work knows that I am a stage actor and coupled with the significance of the date, they wondered momentarily if I was just trying to play an April Fools prank on them. Unable to revive me, they quickly realized this was no joke.
Luckily…several key elements were working in my favor that day. I was standing next to our Construction Manager, Tom Farley and Executive Vice President, David Cherashore. Shortly after my collapse, they tell me that I began to seize and the gravity of my situation became clear. Mr. Farley began CPR immediately. Security Officer, Tony Barba, Jr., quickly joined him while Mr. Cherashore called 911. I remained unresponsive for over six minutes…. no movement, no breathing, no pulse.
Due to the serendipitous proximity of San Diego Police Department Officer Jason Balinger and his partner, and SDFD/Rural Metro’s rig #20, we received emergency response in less than 10 minutes. Using a combination of immediate CPR and auomated external defibrillator units, I made it to USCD Medical Center. The Medical Staff in the ER worked with everything they had at their disposal to save my life. As a crowd of concerned friends and family filled the waiting area, the prognosis was very bleak. Due to the number of times my heart had stopped (five total that day) and the amount of time I was not breathing, the hope began to leave the room as well as the faces of the nearly 20 doctors present.
In fact, at one point one of the physicians asked my wife and a Vicker (Lutheran Pastor in training) standing beside her to come back to the treatment area. The doctor tried to avoid telling my wife that he was calling her back to have her say “Goodbye.” As my wife and Vicker, Joshua Serrano (now Pastor Serrano) entered the room, my wife broke down, but like something out of a Lifetime special, beep…beep…my heart started to beat!
“Get her out of here!” one of the doctors shouted, and she and Vicker Josh were rushed out, so they could continue working on me. Eventually, after several tries, I became stable enough to be moved into the Critical Care Unit. This improvement came as a direct result of the groundbreaking procedure wherein my body temperature was lowered to 88 degrees F to slow the trauma to my body and reduce brain swelling. As I now know, an anoxic event like this often leads to material brain damage.
I spent the next four days in a drug-induced coma fighting for my life. The medical staff was not optimistic and had several difficult conversations with my wife regarding “Alternative Care” plans for me, “IF” I wake up from the coma. At one point of this hellish waiting game, I unexpectedly regained consciousness, while under significant medication. This is my first memory after my collapse. The doctor was obviously surprised and happy to see my eyes open and tested my responsiveness and brain function by requesting that I squeeze his fingers with my right hand. I remember squeezing his hand and the feeling of everyone in the room being so very happy. This is important to note, because when he asked me to do the same thing on the left side…I could not. “C’mon Rob, you can do it, just one little squeeze...” Nothing.
As I became more confused and scared because I had no idea where I was or what was happening, I heard people begin to cry…I heard the machine alarms begin to sound and I tried to move to look around. However, because of the catheters and the shaking from the cooling technique, I had been restrained at my head, torso, and legs.
My feelings of frustration, fear, and helplessness, became overwhelming and I began to weep and tried to scream. Again, because of being intubated, I was only able to cause myself more pain but make no noise. This proved to be the limit of what I could handle at the time and I lost consciousness once again.
With very real fears of brain damage and loss of motor skills on my left side, everyone waited anxiously over the next 24 hours. Again, unexpectedly, I awoke Tuesday the 5th with an entire different outcome. All of my numbers fell into line, my questioned motor skills were performing at a level in keeping with what they all hope for, and they were able to remove the breathing tube so I could be more comfortable. The rest of the medical equipment removal went pretty quickly and I shocked the entire floor by walking the approximately 200 ft. to my next room. I was still on the CCU floor, but out of critical condition and communicating normally. I felt like I was crossing some sort of finish line with cheering supporters on both sides of the hallway…a wonderful feeling.
Over the next eight days, I was tested and retested for common and uncommon causes for this condition, with all results coming back negative or inconclusive. This is also the point where Dr. John Standish Adams took the time to speak with me one-on-one regarding what had really happened to me. I heard a lot from a lot of people, but to hear it explained clinically, including the statistics that were against me, was terrifying! I am still not over the realization of how close I came to death. In fact, I am crying while writing this …..I doubt that this will every go away.
A heart-warming part of my conversation with Dr. Adams was that he helped me realize the amount of love and support my family and I had received. He told me that while I was fighting for my life and in a coma, the waiting room on my floor exceeded the maximum occupancy limit every day with company owners (The Evans Family), co-workers, emergency responders, friends, and family from all over the country and from every facet of our very busy lives. They slept on the floor, they stayed up at my wife’s side all through the night. They brought coffee, pizza, games, money, cards, blankets, smiles, hugs, and loving support for my amazing wife Dori and incredible daughters Kristin and Laurin.
I now have an automatic implantable cardioverter defibrillator (AICD) and my dreams of being a military officer are over. Though it is still devastating to consider, it really means nothing when compared to the alternative outcome…. That, I can’t even imagine.
Due to the education and tireless efforts of people like Maureen O’Connor, EMT, associated with programs like San Diego Project Heartbeat, Evans Hotels is among many businesses that provide AED units at all of our properties. Since this incident, Evans Hotels has increased the number of AED units at our properties by 400%!
The police officers in San Diego do not carry AEDs…yet…but, Maureen and her team are working on that.**
Clearly, without the wonderful men and women that helped me, the benefit of immediate bystander CPR, and the use of external defibrillation…my wife, Dori, would be a widow and my daughters, Kristin and Laurin, would be without their dad.
I have mentioned many specific names for good reason. I want you to recognize that all of them are just people…. like you, like me. What makes them special today is that they were trained, certified, and prepared to act in the face of incredible odds and put someone else’s life before their own. Are you prepared? What if I was your co-worker? Spouse? Child? Brother? Would you know what to do?
I am here today because of the heroic acts of a wonderful group of people, but am faced with the question why? Why am I still here? How did I get so lucky? What am I supposed to do with this second chance? I firmly believe that my path will be laid before me and opportunities to improve the lives of others through the continuation of my own will materialize in due time.
I believe this is one of those opportunities. I urge you all to remain current in CPR and the use of AED units. Please also help spread the word to everyone you know that CPR and AEDs save lives.
Finally, a personal lesson I take from this experience is that the last thing you say to someone could truly be the last thing you say to anyone…so I leave you with this:
"Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift. That's why it is called the present." -Anonymous
-Robert J. Hoadley
** Rob subsequently worked for Cardiac Science and is now employed by ZOLL Medical.
** Update: they now carry AEDs.