Eric Matt of Overland Park had just completed his fifth half-marathon in eight years on April 14, 2012. The avid runner keeps chronic physical pain and weight gain at bay with regular exercise and training. On that sunny Saturday morning last spring, Matt crossed the finish line with his wife—a motivating and inspiring running mate, according to the 47-year-old athlete—with a sense of accomplishment.
In mere minutes, Matt’s personal victory was overshadowed by a strange, indescribable physical sensation. Alarmed, his wife summoned paramedics stationed at the run to look at her husband. After asking Matt a few questions, the paramedics performed an EKG, which tested normal. Matt and his wife went home.
“At first I thought it was just dehydration,” says Matt. “Experiencing a serious heart event was the last thing on my mind. After all, I didn’t have a family history of heart disease.”
According to Matt, 30 minutes later while trying to regain his composure at home he experienced an internal explosion—one that would prove to be a race for his life. Matt’s left anterior descending artery (LAD)—often called the “widow maker”—ruptured and his heart stopped. His frantic wife called 911, and within four minutes the paramedics arrived at the couple’s Overland Park residence. Relentless in their efforts to jumpstart Matt’s heart, they used the defibrillator six times in 14 minutes.
Successful in their efforts to restart Matt’s heart, the first responders initiated Code ICE, an extensive cooling protocol approved by the American Heart Association. This protocol rapidly cools the body’s internal system, safely and effectively managing a patient’s core body temperature, taking it from normal to less than 33 degrees Celsius. Code ICE is an advanced technology that helps provide more positive outcomes for individuals suffering a heart attack.
Matt was then transported to Menorah Medical Center, an accredited chest pain center and part of HCA Midwest Health System, Kansas City’s largest healthcare network. Denise Miller, MD, an emergency room physician at Menorah Medical Center, was the first to see Matt.
“Eric collapsed at home and lost his pulse,” says Dr. Miller. “When he was brought into the emergency room we immediately did an EKG, which showed he had suffered a heart attack. I alerted the cath lab and cardiologist.”
Dr. Miller says as an emergency room physician her role is to act quickly. “To get everything moving for the patient’s individual situation is paramount,” she says. “That’s exactly what the team at Menorah did for Eric.”
Paul Nager, DO, FACC, FACP, FASCAI, is an interventional cardiologist who was on call when Matt was wheeled into Menorah. “Once he was stabilized we took Eric into the cath lab for the stenting procedure,” says Dr. Nager. “The cath lab is an incredibly dedicated, well-trained group of people.”
Dr. Nager says Matt was relatively young to experience the heart attack and is the perfect example of someone trying to do the right thing with his or her health. “He did have a history of smoking and some cholesterol issues, so he wasn’t totally risk-free,” says Dr. Nager. “But Eric was getting in shape, visited his primary care physician regularly and had a good diet.”
Dr. Nager says Matt and his wife did what everyone should do in an emerging health crisis: pay attention to symptoms. “Don’t ignore it,” he says. “Take immediate action.”
Next, Ujjaval M. Patel, MD, FACC, cardiologist, took over the cooling process for Matt, which continued for four days. “After we took Eric off Code ICE and returned his body temperature to normal, I determined he didn’t have any neurological impact from the heart attack which stopped his heart for 14 critical minutes,” he says. “He recovered well and went through cardiac rehab for several months.”
Matt emerged from his procedure and what he calls his “big chill” with a fully engaged appreciation of good health and respecting the body’s warning signs.
“Life is precious,” says Matt, the father of three. “It’s the race you definitely want to finish with flying colors.”