‘Mark was a ticking time bomb waiting to go off’
By all outward appearances, 66-year-old Mark Stanley of Centerville was physically fit and feeling fine. He exercised regularly, was an avid golfer, cyclist and runner, and quit smoking and drinking alcohol nearly 30 years ago.
“I felt great, healthy as a horse,” said Stanley, who has run nine marathons, many shorter road races and participated in the 62-mile Last Gasp bike ride from Sandwich to Provincetown.
But on the inside, “Mark was a ticking time bomb waiting to go off,” according to cardiologist Lawrence S. McAuliffe MD of Cape Cod Healthcare’s Cardiovascular Center.
The internal explosion occurred on a Friday morning last July, moments after Stanley finished his daily workout at the Fitness 500 gym in Hyannis. He collapsed on his way to the locker room, suffering sudden cardiac arrest caused by a blockage in the left anterior descending artery in his heart, also known as the “widow maker.” The ominous nickname is due to the high mortality rate of those who suffer such an attack.
However, Stanley beat the odds and survived, thanks to immediate response and expert care. He is alive and well today, and back on the road to a healthy life. He’s returned to work as a Realtor, is jogging again and training for this summer’s Pan-Mass Challenge, a 192-mile bike-a-thon across Massachusetts.
“They say I’m a member of the 7 Percent Club because 93 percent die from what happened to me,” said Stanley. “Actually, I did die, but they brought me back.”
Dr. McAuliffe, who is treating Mark in his cardiac rehabilitation, is definitive that his patient suffered “a lethal event terminated by the good fortune of trained bystanders and the AED (automated external defibrillator).
“The majority of people who have this happen don’t survive,” he said. “It’s called the ‘widow maker’ for good reason. Mark had a diseased heart and a significant arterial blockage. What happened to him was very rapid and frequently predictable. It was bad luck, but good luck, too, that it happened where it did.”
When Stanley collapsed at Fitness 500, Patrick Hill was nearby and immediately began administering cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) along with another person at the gym who aided in chest compressions. Hill is a firefighter with the Centerville-Osterville-Marstons Mills Department and a trained EMT.
“Mark was pale and had no pulse,” said Hill. “I had them call 9-1-1 and then started CPR. We hooked him up to the AED, but didn’t use it when a slight pulse returned. Whether it’s fire or EMS related, we’re constantly training for real-life emergencies such as these.
“Early CPR saves lives. It’s not often that stories of this nature have a happy ending, but fortunately that day this one did.”
The ambulance from the Hyannis Fire Department, headquartered less than a mile away, arrived within minutes and Stanley was rushed to Cape Cod Hospital, only a mile from the gym. En route, he was revived several times with defibrillator paddles which electronically jolted his heart and restored normal rhythm.
“When the heart stops, basically you’re clinically dead,” said Dr. McAuliffe. “There are brain functions, but every minute is critical. When these events occur out of hospital, you have maybe 15 minutes, and ideally a lot less, to administer treatment. Lack of blood flow to the brain can cause a vegetated state, if the patient survives at all.”
Just days before, Stanley did an 80-mile training ride in preparation for the Pan-Mass Challenge. He was lucky that the attack didn’t occur on the roads.
“No question that the quick and superb treatment Mark received saved his life, and more than once,” said Dr. McAuliffe.
The well-coordinated response included notification to the Cape Cod Hospital emergency department that a cardiac arrest patient was en route. Stanley was admitted to the cardiovascular intensive care unit (CVICU) and went on a ventilator to keep him breathing. He also was put into a medically induced coma and his body cooled with the therapeutic hypothermia unit, known as “Arctic Sun” protocol, which cools the body in order to prevent the devastating cascade of physiologic effects after cardiac arrest that can lead to brain damage.
Cape Cod Hospital interventional cardiologist Alanna Coolong, MD inserted a stent into his damaged heart to open blood flow to the blocked artery.
Stanley said he recalls nothing about the entire ordeal. He was admitted early on a Friday morning, regained consciousness later on Saturday afternoon and was discharged the following Wednesday.
“I remember being in the gym after my workout that Friday and the next thing I remember is going home from the hospital on Wednesday,” he said. “I kept asking ‘where am I, what happened?’ There’s a gap of five days when there’s nothing. And when I got home I felt fine. My chest was a little sore (from the CPR compressions and the defibrillator paddles), but otherwise everything felt the same.”
Memory loss from such trauma is not unusual, according to Dr. McAuliffe. “It’s amnesia to the event and the body’s defensive mechanism,” he said.
The subsequent weeks for Stanley included cardiac rehabilitation – exercising on a treadmill, nutritional and lifestyle education and emotional support groups – all under Dr. McAuliffe’s supervision.
“It’s physical therapy for the heart muscle,” said Dr. McAuliffe.
Stanley’s health was a big factor in helping him survive, and recover, according to Dr. McAuliffe.
“The pace of his rehab had to be controlled somewhat, because with his personality, he would have tried to go back to his activities and do too much too soon,” he said. “But he’s far healthier from a cardiovascular standpoint now than before because his cardiac condition was identified and successfully treated.”
Stanley heeded his doctor’s advice. Support from his wife, Lenore, and their family was important, too, he said. Lenore recently retired after 45 years as a nurse.
He is understandably grateful for the care he received.
“The only explanation I have is I’m a medical miracle. I’m lucky. I’ll admit that what happened is more than a little unnerving, but it doesn’t define me. I’m back living my life.”