It all started with a skiing accident. Knee surgery meant Dan was sidelined from all the sports activity he enjoyed. Finally he’d been given the green light to get back to running. Early Monday morning in September he went to the local YMCA with a friend to get back in shape. Just a little jogging on the treadmill, maybe some weights. Except they didn’t get that far.
“We were probably five or six minutes into it, and I looked at him. I was getting really dizzy and winded. I thought it was because I hadn’t run since last February,” Dan said. “That was the last thing I said. There was no pain, nothing, the lights went out and I hit the floor.”
Now he was turning blue and people in the gym were starting to panic. On the machines next to Dan were a nurse and a retired fireman. They weren't the ones panicking, they had started CPR instantly. Maura, one of the gym staff, rushed over with an AED, she’d been trained just a few months before.
“I’d bitten off a chunk of my tongue and was bleeding from the mouth. But he jumped right in there [and did the rescue breaths]. That’s one of the amazing things, that. He didn’t know me from Adam!” Dan said.
Rita, the nurse, was busy with the chest compressions. Maura setup the AED while others called 9-1-1.
“I was down for a good eight or ten minutes,” Dan said hesitantly. “The AED stopped firing on the eighth minute or so, then the ambulance crew showed up.” His wife had also arrived, and was offered to ride with them to the hospital. “She declined, which was a good idea because I arrested again and they had to use their paddles!”
He awoke in the cath lab looking into a familiar face, “Didn’t I coach your daughter in lacrosse?” Dan asked.
“He replied, ‘Dan you’ve got to stop talking now. You’re my patient!’ Then he gave me something and I went out like a light again.”
Five days later, Dan had been given balloon angioplasty, some beta blockers and an ICD. He went home without knowing what had happened nor why. Except he wasn’t allowed to exercise again until this new scar tissue healed.
“The second time back to the gym, December 7th, I was on the treadmill—I walked first ‘cause I was still rehabbing the knee—and once I got up to speed, boom the ICD fired!” Dan explained. “I stepped off the machine, [and] the device fired again!” He fell over and heard someone ask if he was okay. He wasn’t, and promptly passed out.
“The ICD went off six times in total. And the sixth one woke me back up!” Maura was there holding his hand. She’d felt the shocks and told everyone in the gym that he didn’t need the AED this time. So he spent another week in the hospital without knowing what was wrong. They tried a new drug regime, an EP study to check the device, and a treadmill stress test.
“I went back into VTach* again! Two days later they brought me into the cath lab and found the LAD** was almost occluded,” Dan said with relief. He now knew what was causing the cardiac arrests while exercising. He had a double stent procedure, and is starting cardiac rehab BEFORE he goes to the gym again.
“Because I just don’t have any confidence to start exercising again without a heart monitor!” He exclaimed.
Dan’s family still use the YMCA membership, but he hasn’t been in since December…
* VTach - Ventricular Tachycardia is a rapid heartbeat that often precedes a cardiac arrest (Ventricular Fibrillation)
** LAD - Left Anterior Descending Artery supplies blood to the the left ventricle, and is situated in the front of the heart.