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Monday, March 10, 2014

Meeting first responders to thank them for helping save my life

Jake Casanova, left, and Adam Las
By Ted Slowik

Today I met the paramedics who got me to the hospital when I had a heart attack on Feb. 17.

Paramedics Jake Casanova and Adam Las are the "C" shift crew for the Joliet Fire Department's Ambulance 6, which is based at a fire station 1.6 miles (or four minutes, according to Google Maps) from my house.

The reason minutes (and even seconds) matter is that when I had my heart attack, I flat-lined for six minutes. My heart stopped. Luckily I was in the emergency room when that happened, and there was a whole team of medical professionals on hand putting a tube down my throat to keep me breathing, pounding on my chest doing CPR, shocking my heart back to life with a defibrillator and eventually inserting a stent to clear the main left anterior descending (LAD) artery that was 100 percent blocked.

Six minutes. The time it takes to listen to Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" in its entirety. They say permanent damage usually occurs after the brain is deprived of oxygen for seven minutes. To say it was a close call is an understatement.

When I first felt the symptoms of the heart attack, it was close to 10 p.m. and my wife Jo had just gone to bed. We had just watched the movie "Mud" with Matthew McConaughey and Reese Witherspoon. I laid down on the couch and felt a tightness in my chest. I had trouble breathing.

I got up and walked around but didn't feel any better. I knew Advil wouldn't help but I took some anyway, and immediately threw up. I tasted blood in my mouth. I knew something wasn't right, but didn't know then it was a heart attack. There was no sharp pain. Just an inability to breathe. I crawled around on my hands and knees but nothing made me feel better. After about 10 minutes, I decided to ask Jo to call 911.

This was a critical decision, since I didn't want to seem foolish calling an ambulance if it turned out to be the stomach flu or food poisoning. And I somehow knew I needed an ambulance as opposed to asking Jo to drive me to the hospital. I guess you know yourself better than anyone.

In retrospect, the possibility of a heart attack must have factored into my decision, though I didn't think the words at the time. There's a history of heart disease in my family, and after my 67-year-old brother had an emergency stent procedure a couple weeks earlier our Mom made us promise to get EKGs. Mine was scheduled for Tuesday, Feb. 18. I'm only 48, and less than a week before the heart attack I'd had a physical.

Anyway, Jo immediately called 911 and within a few minutes Adam and Jake were there. They asked how I was doing and I said I couldn't breathe. I was on the kitchen floor at this point, still conscious but having real difficulty breathing. They had wheeled a stretcher into the attached garage, but I had to get up off the floor to get to it. I got up OK and walked with help. I remember trying to put on shoes and a coat before abandoning the effort, figuring I didn't need them where I was going.

I laid down on the stretcher and they wheeled me down the driveway and loaded me into the ambulance. Then there were several minutes while they tried to stabilize me, started some IVs, notified the ER of my condition, gave me oxygen and aspirin and a little later, nitroglycerin. Before long we were on our way for the 1.7-mile (five minute) ride to the ER at Joliet's Presence St. Joseph Medical Center.

As I've said before, they had already called a Code Blue, and my last conscious thoughts were being in the ER, having my chest shaved and a tube shoved down my throat. Then blackness. They gave me the Michael Jackson knockout sedative, so I have no recollection of anything until I woke up at about 9 a.m. Tuesday. No white lights, no sensations of floating above my lifeless body. Nothing. I guess I felt pretty good from the moment I woke up, all things considered. I didn't know I'd had a heart attack until Jo told me how my heart stopped for six minutes, and the chaplain had told her to prepare for the worst.

Anyway, after four days in the hospital I was discharged on Friday, Feb. 21. When I got home I emailed Joliet Mayor Tom Giarrante, himself a former firefighter, and Tom immediately sent along to Fire Chief Joe Formhals my inquiry about the paramedics who transported me to the hospital. More recently, Deputy Chief Ray Randich also helped arrange for me to stop by the station and thank the guys.

I'd like to also thank everyone in the ER that night at St. Joe's. I sent a card to the hospital, but I have no way of knowing who all was in the ER that night and played a role in saving my life. I understand when a Code Blue is called it's pretty much all hands on deck, and I guess the ER got a little backed up that night, so apologies to others whose treatment was delayed on my account.

The recovery is going well. Still getting lots of rest. Seeing the cardiologist again on Wednesday and hoping for clearance to begin some rehab. I've lost 30 pounds in the three weeks since the heart attack, though I don't recommend this to anyone as a weight-loss incentive. Not smoking is hard, but necessary. I'm taking meds to lower cholesterol and looking forward to many more happy years of existence.

Just a final word of thanks to everyone who sent messages of support, cards and gifts, and visits and phone calls. I really do appreciate all your prayers and kind thoughts. I hope to see you out and about again soon!