"Everybody just did their job. Their behavior relaxed me."
“They didn’t just save my life that day. They brought me back to life,” said Steve Hillebrand of that afternoon in 2009. A calm, fast-acting team of doctors and nurses of the BMC Emergency Department pulled him back into this world.
“I had a heart attack on my postal route, but I didn’t know it at first,” recalled Steve. He popped a couple of purple pills for what he thought was indigestion. That seemed to work for a while, until he arrived back at the post office. “I felt something inside of me and knew something was very wrong.” He was rushed to BMC.
The internal panic he felt as they wheeled his stretcher from the ambulance into BMC eased as he noticed how calm everyone was. “It wasn’t a helter-skelter atmosphere at all. Everybody just did their job. Their behavior relaxed me.”
But then it happened. Boom.
“I flatlined. I basically had the dream,” said Hillebrand, recounting an experience he knows is replayed every day at BMC. He awoke to the voice of Kerri Maynard, RN calling his name, “Steve! Steve!” “What?” he finally replied, to which she exclaimed, “Oh, thank God.” He then realized something major had happened, but stayed calm – because everyone around was calm.
Behind that calm, the BMC team moved rapidly to assess his condition and take decisive actions to save his life. Steve had suffered a STEMI, a type of heart attack called a myocardial infarction in which a coronary artery becomes blocked, causing heart muscle to begin to atrophy. A tissue plasminogen activator or tPA was administered to clear the clot.
Pulled back from the brink.
Once they pulled him from the brink and stabilized him, the team readied Steve for transfer to Baystate Medical Center in Springfield. Surgeons performing interventional cardiac catheterization to repair these conditions generally are stationed in higher population cities like Springfield, which serves as a regional hub for such surgery. There, Steve was fitted with a stent that enables blood flow, a procedure that was followed by rehabilitation and eventually his full recovery.
During his lunch break one day last summer, Steve parked his truck outside BMC and stepped inside the building where he “basically died” not long ago. He shared his story with dozens of doctors, nurses, and others at a patient care review forum normally reserved for clinical talks.
His account of his heart attack and the life-saving actions of the Emergency Department staff drew applause and tears. “I owe you my life,” he told them. Asked afterward if he had a copy of his notes, he pointed to his heart and said, “It’s coming from right here.”