Friday, June 18, 2010 - Oklahoma Man Survives Widow Maker Heart Attack - Twice

OKLAHOMA CITY- This Father’s Day will be a special one for the McDown children. They’ll celebrate the fact that their father is still alive.

“Seeing my dad on his death bed was surreal because he has always been the strongest person in my life,” reflects 20-year-old Megan McDown. “It was the most terrifying experience of my life,” admits 22-year-old Jon McDown. “It was like seeing Superman on the ground and not knowing if he was going to be able to get up again.”

For all intents and purposes, Harold McDown’s life should have ended April 20, 2009. The then 46-year-old was the picture of health. He didn’t smoke, didn’t drink, ate healthfully and exercised regularly. In fact he had just finished working out with a friend when he started to feel ill.

Recognizing the seriousness of the situation his friend rushed him to INTEGRIS Canadian Valley Hospital in Yukon. They arrived at the emergency room at 8:01 a.m. Two minutes later, McDown was in full cardiac arrest.

“The chest pain was excruciating. It felt like someone was tightening straps around my chest,” remembers McDown. The type of heart attack he suffered is so severe it is frequently referred to as the “widow maker,” with a survival rate of roughly only 5 percent.

“What caught my attention was when Linda McDown grabbed my arm and said ‘Whatever you do please don’t let him die. He’s a good husband,’” says Sean Ludlow, M.D., an emergency room physician at INTEGRIS Canadian Valley Hospital. “Normally you try to leave the personal aspects out to do what is right for the patient. You leave the emotion out and deal with it later. But I prayed as I walked into the room ‘Please God let me do a miracle today.’”

Dr. Ludlow and his team had to shock McDown fifteen times during the ordeal to restart his heart. “His heart wouldn’t start. He was clinically dead,” says McDown’s wife Linda. “Had they quit on him at INTEGRIS Canadian Valley, he would not be here today. They did an amazing job!”

Realizing that McDown needed more advanced care, he was transferred to INTEGRIS Baptist Medical Center in Oklahoma City. While en route, paramedics had to use a defibrillator twice just to keep his heart beating.

Once at INTEGRIS Baptist, McDown coded an additional six times. He was treated by INTEGRIS Heart Hospital cardiologist Mel Clark, M.D. “With his heart attacks he had so many cardiac arrests that at one point we were almost ready to stop resuscitation,” says Clark.

But they persisted and eventually were able to get McDown somewhat stabilized, though the prognosis was grim. The main artery to McDown’s heart was completely blocked. A stent was inserted to try to restore blood flow but it was “touch and go” for the next several days.

Showing some improvement, McDown was discharged from the hospital April 27, 2009. Without even making it home, McDown returned to the emergency room within an hour. He was experiencing a second massive heart attack. The odds of surviving this one were even lower than the first.

It was determined that McDown’s artery was again blocked. After another stent was placed, McDown’s condition was extremely critical. “My blood pressure was dangerously low and my hands and feet were ice cold as my body was beginning to shut down,” explains McDown. “But I really thought I was going to die when I started losing my sight.”

He asked to see his children, to tell them goodbye. But seeing their faces, he found renewed strength. “When my kids came I started fighting again. I wanted to live! I honestly think that if my kids had not come, I might have given up.”

Douglas Horstmanshof, M.D., co-director of the INTEGRIS Advanced Cardiac Care program was brought in to assess the situation. It was determined that McDown’s body was not responding to the heart medication most commonly used with stent patients. His medication was adjusted and he spent the next 15 days in the hospital until he was finally able to go home mid May. Recovery was slow at first. But miraculously, by the end of the summer, McDown was able to return to work.

“So many great people played essential roles in Harold’s recovery. We could never thank them enough for the outstanding care he was given,” says his wife. “Now he’s back to normal. Playing golf and going to the lake. We walk three or four miles a day and I can’t keep up with him!” McDown says he is in the best shape of his adult life and his doctors agree.

“Through a combination of dedicated work by him and his incredibly supportive family, leading edge medical care, and answered prayer, Harold has enjoyed a return to an essentially normal quality of life,” Dr. Horstmanshof applauds. “He has been a model of self-care and compliance, which has greatly contributed to his remarkable improvements.”

The McDowns went back to INTEGRIS Canadian Valley Hospital on the one year anniversary to thank Dr. Ludlow and the ER staff for helping to save Harold’s life. Ludlow will never forget the encounter. “To see him come around the corner healthy was amazing. Based on his condition that dreadful day, he shouldn’t be here today.” Ludlow says the event changed him as a doctor. He often thinks of the McDowns as encouragement on tough days in the ER.

The family says the experience has only brought them closer. “When you come that close to death it just makes you think differently,” says McDown. “I don’t sweat the small stuff anymore and I truly cherish every moment I have with my wife and kids.”

His children feel the same way. “When you realize that by all odds you shouldn’t have a dad, it makes you really appreciate the little things you get to share with your family,” says Jon McDown. “It’s so easy to take your family for granted because they’re the ones who will always be there,” says Megan McDown. “Last April, we stopped taking our blessings for granted. We value every day that we are given with each other.”

They’ll spend this Father’s Day together at the lake, making memories and celebrating the life that was almost lost.

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