My THRIVER story starts two and a half years ago when I suffered a full cardiac arrest. By that, I mean my heart stopped before I hit the ground. It was a routine golf outing with my usual group of buddies. Although it isn’t typical for most groups of friends, my buddies were all “first responders”. I’m a retired LAPD police officer, and these guys are either active or retired paramedics, firefighters or police officers. Talk about good fortune, I was technically dead, but surrounded by guys who were equipped to restart my “ticker”. Because I’m “ one of them”, they went into overdrive to save me. My closest friend for over 30 years was alongside me on the 3rd hole, and screamed for their help. They took turns at CPR until the fire department arrived, chain sawing their way through the chain length fence to get to the 3rd hole. When they took over, they used the “electric shockers” 4 times on the route to the nearby trauma center Hospital. Again, it was a blessing to “be in the right place at the right time”.
The nearest hospital to the golf course not only had a trauma center, but an Emergency Cardiac Care Center. Once in the E.R., I needed 4 more “kick starts” before they could maintain a heart rhythm enough to get me to the cardiac catheter lab where the on-duty Cardiac-Surgeon was waiting. He went to work and swiftly removed a large clot from my right valve, and placed a stent. He called it the “widow maker”, as that is the usual outcome, as it doesn’t give any forewarning. My wife still shivers when she recalls this “nickname”. Even if it occurs while in a hospital E.R., the outcome is grim. It was beyond grim actually. Less than 2% survive, usually with permanent damage to heart and brain. During this process, despite their heroic efforts, it looked like I would be in that grim 98%.
While this was going on, my buddies dropped their golf clubs and raced to the hospital and contacted my family. It would happen that this was an exception to a normal golf outing for us. This happened on a Monday, which we never play on. Normally on Mondays, I would be alone at the barn, caring for our horses. That “ticking time bomb” would have went off with no one around to summon help. It was another random blessing.
It took awhile for my wife and two brothers to get to my side, because the tournament was over 2 hours further from the usual local courses where we play. They arrived as I was being moved to the ICU. I remained unconscious and could not be aroused by the ICU doctors attempt to get a response. As my wife walked in, I appeared to be in a full gran-mal seizure. This is a bad neurological sign, and usually indicates severe brain damage from the prolonged loss of oxygen to the brain throughout the cardiac arrest. The team immediately set in motion the protocol to lower my body temperature. It kept me in an induced coma for the 24-hour hyperthermia protocol to lower risk of permanent brain & heart damage. The long wait began as my daughter arrived and my son who was out-of-state was notified.
All the while my wife and daughter were at my bedside. The clinical signs were dismal. I was intubated, and the respirator was breathing for me, but I still was in respiratory distress. The “numbers” weren’t good, and the prognosis was poor. The staff was cautiously trying to prepare my family for the worst probable outcome. Despite the prompt response of CPR, there was too much oxygen loss to the brain to sustain function on its own. Now all they could do was wait…. Wait till the body temperature could be raised to normal, and the sedation withdrawn. Wait and see…
Despite their hopelessness, my wife defied their warnings. As they attempted to prepare her for the possibility of brain death, her optimistic nature prevailed. She kept praying and talking to me. Telling me that she knew I was “in there”, and that I needed to stay here, stay with her. She held my ice-cold hand all night and the next day, repeating prayers, and “ demands” to “stay with me”. To the on looking medical team, it sadly looked like complete denial. To her, it was commitment, faith, and a sense of connection that she still felt with me. She would say, she could “feel me in there”, and she wasn’t letting me slip away.
My buddy jumped on a plane, and continued vigil with my family as they waited. As they took me out of hyperthermia, my body restored to natural temperature. My wife assumed it would soon be time to take me off the medical sedation as I continued to be nonresponsive. The nurse compassionately told her that the sedation had been stopped hours before, yet there was no sign of consciousness.
Grim turned even darker, but faith and commitment took over again. Prayers were encircling me from our family and friends near and far. Prayer Chains had begun from people we didn’t even know. My wife would summon a friend or family to pray out loud over the phone to her, to keep her mind focused on healing. She didn’t have the words anymore to formulate her request to God – she needed them to say it for her.
Hours later my eyes opened, and started darting and rolling but I did not focus or respond to voices. Slowly I was stirring, agitated and like a scared animal. Among a room of nursing staff, the charge nurse stepped up. She had previously assured my wife to “trust her gut”, and that she believed in miracles. She gave the order to remove the intubation, and see if I could breath. Once out, I coughed and resumed breathing on my own.
The neurologist was summoned and came to my bedside, not able to disguise his obvious shock. He looked into my pupils and asked me my name. I gruffly responded, “Hector”, he audibly gasped with surprise. In disbelief he asked, “what’s your wife’s name?” Again in a hoarse, strained voice, I responded “Rebecca”.
The entire CICU staff was near tears and gathered to see what they coined the “Miracle Man”. Later we would hear them recount their hopeless expectations. Although only 2% who have a full arrest outside the ER survive, only one of the nursing staff had ever seen it. So most were gently preparing my family for the worst. The odds were against me surviving, much less without severe brain damage. So even though, I regained consciousness, they didn’t expect me to regain verbal, cognitive and physical functions. But I did!
My wife had known me for over 35 years, and kept saying that I was a guy who needed to be in control and that I must be fighting this like crazy, well, the fight didn’t stop there. The journey back was difficult, and the temporary brain injury became apparent right away. My confusion lead to paranoia and I struggled to regain my grasp on reality. But as days, weeks and months passed, I have resumed my normal life with full capacity.
I’m not sure if I can ever feel “normal” again but I am grateful for the NEW normal.
I am often struck with amazement and intrigue about “why me?” Why did I not only survive, but slowly began to THRIVE?
As a former police officer the city of Los Angeles, I could often be negative and reactive at times. (Those who know me are nodding in agreement with this. LOL) They would even say I contrasted my wife’s optimism with pessimism. But there’s a new peace and appreciation in each day that I have been given, going forward. I have always felt blessed with my family, but there’s a new true sense of love and appreciation for their ability to “walk” at my side through the challenges we faced. Their “unconditional love” was apparent in their devotion and patience with me.
My “tough cop” buddies, were literally crying with me and I think that after sharing this “near death experience”, we are all more “emotionally available” to each other.
I guess I always would say I was blessed. But now it means more. I feel my feelings deeper, and more than ever, I am at a more peaceful place within my self and in my relationships. My physical health is strong. I’m thriving without any heart damage, which is another miracle. I golf, bowl, workout at the gym and also do yard work, recreational activities & travel – all without restrictions or limitations.
So I am truly grateful to say I AM A THRIVER!