Save Date: November 24, 2009
A co-worker was unable to work his dealing shift at the 500 Club Casino, so I offered to cover it that night. I was dealing cards in a poker tournament, when after about 30 minutes, I began to feel different. I wasn't in pain, nor did I feel dizzy. I just didn't feel "right."
I took a break from the table, went into the office and sat down at my desk. A call came thru and I answered; it was the casino owner's wife, who just happens to work in the medical industry. After I explained my symptoms to her, she convinced both her husband (Louie) and me to get in the truck and head straight to the hospital, "just to be safe." Truthfully, I didn't want to go, but I got in the truck and left.
Knowing how busy the conventional hospital Emergency Rooms are at night in Fresno, I told Louie to drop me off at Fresno Heart Hospital. I had taken a friend there years before, recalling that the facility had an after hours Cardiac Diagnosis Unit. By now, 20 minutes had passed, and I was experiencing tingling in my fingers and strange feelings in my lower jaw.
We pulled into Fresno Heart Hospital and walked in. I hadn't been there more than 10 minutes when it happened: I died. I don't remember anything from that point, but offer the story told by doctors and hospital personnel.
From a standing position, I went into cardiac arrest and fell, face first to the floor. It just so happened that, as the hospital sounded the "Code" for my collapse, Dr. Kopacz, Doctor of Anesthesiology, had just completed his shift and was coming out of the elevator. He and Dr. Javed dropped to the floor beside me and began working on me. Dr. Kopacz was able to intubate me and started breathing for me fairly quickly after my collapse. Together, they administered CPR and shocked me several times with an AED. I was clinically dead more than 26 minutes.
These two men were absolutely amazing in that they refused to give up on me. I might also add that Dr. Kopacz is in his 60's and stayed on that floor with me on his knees for nearly 40 minutes.
After finally getting my heart back into rhythm they were able to get me onto a table and into the ICU unit. In the following 13 hours my heart stopped repeatedly and I was brought back with the use of my ICU "roommate" - the defibrillator. I was kept in an induced coma and on life support for two days. The staff informed my family that there was a very strong chance that I could have serious brain damage "if" I made it out of the coma.
On Thanksgiving Day the doctors began to reverse my comatose state and I began to "come to." I remember it very well. I was still intubated, and it scared me quite a bit until I realized that even though the tubes were lodged in my throat, I could indeed breath. I was told that the breathing tubes would remain in position until doctors were sure I was stable enough to breath on my own.
Not being able to speak at all, I motioned to the nurse with my hand that I wanted to write. I remember her eyes getting really big as she darted out of the room. She returned with my mother, brother, a note-pad, and a pencil. I couldn't understand why my mom was crying with a HUGE smile on her face. At this point, I had no idea what happened or that I had lost two days in a coma. I just remember everyone around me saying that there wasn't any brain damage, especially since I was recognizing people and writing paragraphs of conversation with perfect handwriting.
It was so strange to not be able to speak at all. I was SO grateful when my doctors agreed that evening to go ahead and remove the breathing tubes. After that, my body just started working again.
I was sitting up within an hour of the tubes coming out, and within three hours, I was eating dinner. The next morning I was walking the hallways, making all the staff nervous because I truly shouldn't have been recovering so fast. On my third day in the hospital, I was taken out of ICU and moved to a regular room. On the fourth day (Saturday), I went down to the Heart Cath Lab where my cardiologist implanted an ICD in my chest. The following day, I was in the car on my way home.
There was no reason that the doctors could find to explain why I suffered the initial and subsequent cardiac arrests. All the testing and the heart catheter that was performed, only showed a normal healthy heart, with no prior damage, blockages or anything. It was and is a complete mystery why I went into Ventricular Fibrillation so many times. My doctors agree that it could have been caused by the stress I endure daily running a casino and two other businesses and my horrible sleep habits of 5 hours per night. Or, it simply could have been a freak occurrence. There's no telling.
My life is so different now; the small things mean so much to me. I live my life in a much different way. I've slowed down a lot. I don't stress over things anymore, and I get lots of sleep! I truly think it's important for ALL of us, not just survivors, to live every day like it could be our last. I do that now and I enjoy every moment of life. I'm so grateful to everyone at the Fresno Heart Hospital. Every one of them is a hero, and I will be forever grateful.