He runs to “get further away from sudden death”
Stuart Schulman, 57, of West Barnstable is very grateful to be alive, thanks to his wife, Melissa Averinos, West Barnstable Fire Department paramedics, and the Cape Cod Hospital cardiac specialists and nurses.
On Friday, October 13, 2017, Stuart’s heart stopped due to a sudden cardiac arrest and, thanks to his wife initiating CPR and calling 911, he is alive today.
According to the American Heart Association, more than 350,000 cardiac arrests happen outside the hospital each year and, when CPR is started immediately, it can double or triple the person’s chances of survival.
Melissa concedes she didn’t know how serious her husband’s situation was even after she called 911, after he fell face first on their dining room floor. She remembers the dispatcher asking her if Stuart was breathing, and she didn’t realize he wasn’t until she turned him over to see if his chest was rising and falling and check his color, causing her to scream.
The dispatcher told her she needed to start compressions. Ironically, four years prior, at the urging of Stuart, they had both taken a CPR course at the West Barnstable Fire Department.
“I remembered the most important thing was to do it hard and fast to a specific beat,” said Melissa.
Once West Barnstable Paramedics Lt. Ed Clough and Bill Murray arrived, they took over for Melissa. She watched as they continued compressions and shocked his body a total of three times. Eventually they got him stabilized and transported Stuart to Cape Cod Hospital.
Stuart was evaluated in the Emergency Center and was taken to the cardiac Cath Lab for a coronary angioplasty They placed two stents and restored blood flow to his heart.
But later that evening, when he was in the Cardiac Care Unit, he started to decline.
“I didn’t realize how serious it was because the nurses kept their cool,” said Melissa. “Four nurses worked on him full-time for about four hours, monitoring every little thing to keep him alive.”
They rushed him back to the Cath Lab for a balloon angioplasty to open an artery and get him stabilized. After that it was all a matter of time, waiting to see what his condition would be after the procedure.
“It was amazing to watch the CCU nurses work that first night, they kept him alive, they really did,” Melissa said. “They knew what to do, they were the boots on the ground and they were doing their work. It was incredible. The doctors were very, very skilled and saved his life. They are top-notch and if something goes wrong, that’s where you want to be.”
Stuart doesn’t have any memory of his close call with death.
“I had the best four days of sleep I’ve had in years,” he joked.
He was in a medically induced coma during his time in the Cardiac Care Unit and prior to his cardiac arrest, he only has memory up to a certain point the night before it happened.
Looking back, Melissa points out some things Stuart was doing that were out of character for him prior to his collapse. He complained of feeling pressure on his chest, but denied having chest pain or radiating pain down an arm. He argued with her and wouldn’t agree to call 911 or text his sister, who is a physician’s assistant in Maryland, to ask advice. He kept lying down, took a shower and paced to try and relieve his symptoms.
After their experience, Melissa said she would not hesitate to call 911 and recommends others not wait if they find themselves in the same situation.
Stuart was determined to fully recover and started with goals he set in the Cardiac Step-down Unit. When he was told he would have to be discharged to a rehabilitation facility to regain his strength, he decided to do everything he could to instead go home upon discharge from the hospital. When instructed to do exercises every two to three hours, he did them every half hour. He worked hard to pass milestones such as walking unassisted and going up and down the stairs. After passing such milestones he was indeed allowed to go home.
He rested and worked out at home for a week before going back to work on a limited schedule. He was encouraged and agreed to enroll in the Cape Cod Healthcare Cardiac Rehab Program and, just a couple of months ago, he completed the four-month program.
“After a few weeks, [in cardiac rehab] I started to push myself to get better, go faster, go harder to see how it affected me,” said Stuart. “If anything was going to happen, it was better if it was while I was there.”
He did a walk/run 5K road race with his son, two daughters and Melissa the first weekend after he completed cardiac rehab. He started out walking, ran a little bit and, in the end, he out-ran his son. He has done two 5K road races since and plans to run the Cape Cod Healthcare’s Healthy Park Healthy People Run Walk for Heart Health on September 22, 2018.
While he admits he hates running, he does it to prove to himself that he can.
“Every time I do this, I’m a little bit further away from sudden death,” said Stuart.
The couple’s advice to everyone who will listen is: Get CPR certified and, when in doubt, call 911.
As a side note, on Friday, April 13 2018, six months to the day from Stuart’s event, Melissa found herself on stage at the Resort and Conference Center in Hyannis, where she was awarded the American Red Cross Life Saving Heroes Award for her part in saving Stuart’s life.