One miracle after another

Jamie Sleight was taking advantage of the pleasant weather on a warm April Sunday to get some work done in his yard. He hadn’t been feeling well, but put it off to low blood sugar. Jamie, an active 45-year-old, spends his free time with his family camping, playing soccer and riding on the Silver Lake dunes. He’s never worried much about his health. He’s always scheduled annual physicals and kept an eye on his slightly high cholesterol. There were certainly no signs of what was to come.

After mowing the lawn, Jamie ate a peanut butter sandwich to help get his blood sugar up. But it didn’t make him feel better like it normally would. In the meantime, his wife Susan had become concerned about what Jamie was describing as heartburn, in addition to his overall “not-well” feeling. She Googled symptoms of a heart attack.

Between Susan’s growing concern and the voice in his head telling him maybe something wasn’t quite right, Jamie began to think he should head to the local hospital to get checked out. Susan wanted to call 9-1-1 for an ambulance, but Jamie thought it would be faster to drive.

He doesn’t remember the trip.

The Sleights have lived in Charlotte for 15 years, and Jamie grew up here. They’ve always appreciated having a hospital nearby, but never more so than that early Sunday afternoon. During the four-mile drive to Hayes Green Beach, Susan said Jamie began to experience classic heart attack symptoms.

“He had pain in his back, tightening of his chest, his arms went numb and he was sweating so much,” Susan said. “We were so thankful later that we didn’t get stuck by the train or get caught behind farm equipment on the way.” Both Jamie and Susan say, if they had to do it again, they would have called 9-1-1 instead of driving themselves. The ambulance could have met them and the paramedics could have started treating Jamie sooner, while the hospital could have prepared for his arrival.

The last thing Jamie remembers from that day is being dropped off at HGB’s emergency entrance, entering the hospital and telling the registration staff he thought he was having a heart attack.

Shawn Davenport was the ED triage nurse at HGB that day and evaluated Jamie first. “I took one look at him and knew it wasn’t good,” Shawn said.

A best practice for a suspected heart attack is to get the patient on the EKG within 10 minutes. HGB’s standard is five minutes. An EKG is an electrocardiogram that measures the heart’s electrical activity.

“It was hard to get the EKG hooked up to (Jamie) because he was so sweaty. But as soon as we got readings we knew he was having a heart attack.” Shawn has been an emergency department nurse for more than five years. Her gut instinct told her that Jamie’s outcome wasn’t going to end well.

Dr. Kory Deason, the emergency department physician that afternoon, placed a call to Sparrow Hospital. HGB and Sparrow have a protocol in place for heart attack patients. One call from HGB puts Sparrow’s cardiology team and catheter lab on notice that a critical patient is headed their way.

Then, as Susan said, “all hell broke loose.” Jamie experienced his first cardiac arrest — his heart stopped.

“Jamie had a seizure because of lack of oxygen to his brain and he ‘flat-lined’ twice,” Susan said.

A code blue was called, which immediately brought all available hands to help. It’s a coordinated life-saving effort that includes nurses, paramedics, hospitalists and more. The Emergency Medical Services team brought in the LUCAS Chest Compression System. The LUCAS performs consistent, uninterrupted chest compressions that help maintain a steady supply of oxygen to the heart and brain.

“He was awake after the first arrest,” Shawn said. “He was trying to talk and breathe on his own. The fact that he was fighting even after such a traumatic event, made us hopeful for the outcome.”

During the seizure Jamie vomited and bit his tongue, causing him to breathe blood and fluids into his lungs. His oxygen saturation level fell to 75 percent. A normal oxygen saturation level in a healthy person is between 97 and 99 percent. The emergency department staff had to intubate him and put him on a ventilator to help him breathe and get his oxygen levels closer to normal.

Once Jamie was stabilized, he was transferred to Sparrow in their Mobile Intensive Care Unit and was immediately taken into surgery.

“Within 30 minutes a stent was placed in Jamie’s heart,” Susan said. The cardiologist told Susan that Jamie’s heart was in great shape and going to be stronger than ever.

A branch of Jamie’s left coronary artery had narrowed significantly and a piece of plaque broke off causing the cardiac arrest. It is an area of the heart that, when damaged, is associated with high fatalities.

“Sometimes there is a bigger hand in things and this was one of those moments,” Shawn said. “The whole experience was a miracle … it was one miracle after another.”

Jamie stayed 10 days in Sparrow’s intensive care unit, primarily due to Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome caused when he aspirated into his lungs during the seizure.

“It may be a year before I’m completely recovered,” Jamie said. “But my doctor and therapists are impressed by the progress I’ve made so far.” Jamie is expected to fully recovery. He is currently in cardiopulmonary rehabilitation at HGB.

“The biggest thing I can say is, as a male, don’t be macho,” Jamie said. “If you think there might be a problem and you’re not feeling good; go to the hospital and get it checked out!”

The Sleights recognize that many things worked in their favor that afternoon. Had they not gone directly to HGB and gotten Jamie medical treatment as quickly as they had, he would not have survived.

“We are so thankful to have our small-town hospital with such advanced technology and amazing staff,” Susan said. “It took a team to save Jamie.”

Jamie’s HGB team that day included Dr. Deason and Shawn, plus Becky Arambula and Mary Fiala, registered nurses, Dan Sowles and Roy Gilbertson, paramedics, Elizabeth Cason, unit clerk, Betsy Moskowitz, respiratory therapist, Dale Foster, pharmacist, and Rhonda Sullivan, R.N., house supervisor.

Since Jamie’s heart attack he has had several family members and friends make appointments for annual physicals, for stress tests and to get cholesterol checked. Two friends went on an immediate diet and each lost 20 pounds within a month. More than anything the Sleights want as many people as possible to benefit from their story.

“You are not always aware of what’s happening in your body,” Susan said. “We are hoping Jamie’s story motivates others to get checked out and make their health a priority.”