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Published on February 18, 2020

His heart stopped – and they jumped into action

Reed Baer

Reed Baer was finishing an exercise session at the Fitness 500 gym in Hyannis one day last fall. It was a routine workout for the 63-year-old pastor at West Parish of Barnstable Congregational church. Everything felt normal until, well, it didn’t.

“I’ve been going to the gym for years, at least three times a week,” said Baer. “I think I’m in good shape. My weight’s OK. I do cardio and strength work. This particular day it was a 20-minute Peloton class, not that strenuous and I wasn’t overexerting myself.

“But I was walking away from the bike and I had this thought: ‘I really need to sit…’ It was a feeling that I need to sit down, but I never completed the thought.”

Baer went down, but not sitting. He collapsed on the gym floor, unconscious, in the throes of a life-threatening heart attack. He awoke in an ambulance and heard paramedics tell him, “Those guys at the gym just saved your life.”

Baer later learned that Fitness 500 staff, along with a trained medical professional who was also at the gym at the time, performed CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) and used an AED (automated external defibrillator) to electrically shock his heart back into rhythm.

That rapid response, along with the close proximity of Hyannis Fire Department’s emergency medical services, helped prevent a fatal tragedy.

“It’s the chain of survival,” said Interventional Cardiologist David Leeman, M.D., of Cape Cod Healthcare’s Interventional Cardiology team. “The presentation of symptoms can be minimal discomfort to severe. In this case, it was sudden cardiac arrest from ventricular fibrillation. That led to Mr. Baer collapsing. He was fortunate to be in a public place. This is an excellent example of what happens when you can quickly administer CPR and especially the AED to zap the heart back into rhythm. Most of the time, without an immediate response and proper treatment, the outcome is not positive.”

At the Hospital

Baer was rushed to Cape Cod Hospital’s Emergency Center nearby and underwent a series of exams, including an echocardiogram and an EKG (electrocardiogram). A CT scan ruled out a stroke, but the eventual diagnosis was 90-95 percent blockage of the left anterior descending cardiac artery. Stabilized, he was admitted to the cardiovascular intensive care unit (CVICU) under the care of hospital Cardiologist Jennifer Ladner, MD, who managed his care until he was stable enough to undergo the interventional cardiology procedure.

“It was all overwhelming and sure, I was scared,” said Baer. “I remember being in the ER still in my gym clothes. They cut off my shirt. I wasn’t really in pain, but there was some discomfort, probably from the pounding on my chest at the gym.”

Dr. Leeman later performed a catheterization to open the artery. A stent was inserted to restore normal blood flow to the heart. The procedure took about an hour.

The next day Baer had a stress test to determine if the original symptoms which occurred at the gym would return. He passed and was discharged. He rested at home in East Sandwich, took daily half-hour walks and returned to work at the church 10 days later.

He is now under the care of a community cardiologist and in cardiac rehabilitation three days a week, which includes structured exercising on a treadmill, bike and rowing machine. Baer’s heart rate is monitored to keep him within a target zone. He is on medication, but was allowed to cross country ski over the holidays.

Cherish Today

Baer was effusive in his praise of the treatment he received from everyone during his hospitalization. In addition to Dr. Leeman, Cardiovascular Nurse Practitioner Matt Tooker was also among those who cared for him.

“Obviously, an event like Reed had is not something anyone wants to go through,” said Tooker. “But when it happens, it’s reassuring to know everyone is highly trained and prepared to initiate immediate care. It’s all very well-coordinated. My role is to assist the physicians and technicians, provide comfort for the patients and help them understand what’s going on.”

The entire hospital team – from the Emergency Center doctors and nurses, to the inpatient cardiology doctors, nurse and technicians, to the team in the hospital Catheterization Lab – play a part in ensuring that patients who arrive at the hospital in need of emergency cardiology care receive the absolute best treatment from start to finish, he said.

Tooker, the son of a doctor and a nurse, said he learned at an early age from his parents how to treat people.

“I try to be there for all my patients, to talk with them and demystify some of the medical jargon. If I can help explain things with a common sense approach, it helps ease their fears,” he said.

Baer has returned to preaching Sunday sermons with a reminder and a renewed focus to cherish the here and now.

“The temptation is to say ‘why me?’ I thought I was a healthy guy and still I was struck down,” said Baer. At the same time, why not me? I was lucky this happened at a gym with trained personnel and an AED available. If I didn't have such a great hospital close by with wonderful care and state-of-the art facilities, I’d be gone. If this happened while I was cross country skiing in the woods, I’d probably be Frosty the Snowman.

“I’m an ordained minister and I’m always telling people that tomorrow is never promised to us. I truly believe that. On the other hand, when something like this happens, it becomes personal, not theoretical, and it’s very sobering. Now I feel like I’m preaching to myself and it’s a reminder of something I’ve always known. We have this day and try to make the best of it. Life is a gift so let’s embrace it as much as we can for a long as we can.”