Surgical nurse miraculously survives ‘widowmaker’

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

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Within seconds, he went from no coronary artery blockage to 99 percent

Sitting at the kitchen table enjoying a pizza with his wife, Debra, is how Jimmy McCutcheon, RN, of South Rockwood village in Monroe County, begins the story of his near-death experience. His pager went off: Jimmy was needed at Beaumont Hospital, Trenton — where he has worked for 36 years — to assist on a complex orthopedic trauma surgical case. Just then, Debra noticed Jimmy didn’t look right. He’d been having some chest pain on and off that evening. Then, he vomited.

“Take me to the hospital right now!” He knew Debra could quickly drive the few miles from their home to the hospital. “I asked her to drive safely, too, even though it felt like I had a rope cinched around my chest.”

They walked into the Emergency Center and announced he was having a heart attack. Lucky for Jimmy, interventional cardiologist Abedelrahim Asfour, M.D., was there just waiting for a bad rainstorm to pass before heading home.

Dr. Asfour read Jimmy’s electrocardiogram: “He’s having a massive heart attack. We need to go to the Cath Lab immediately.”

Jimmy needed emergency heart catheterization, but he would not survive the trip to Beaumont Hospital, Dearborn — the nearest facility with an open heart program. Dr. Asfour prayed Jimmy would hold on until the Cardiac Catheterization Lab team could assemble.

A rapid fluid buildup in Jimmy’s lungs nearly killed him. “I didn’t see the white light, but I knew I was dying. I saw the crucifixion and then asked God to please forgive my sins. I felt His love and mercy.”

“I need nitroglycerin and Lasix now!” Dr. Asfour yelled. Nitroglycerin widened Jimmy’s blood vessels, so more blood could reach his heart. Lasix reduced the pulmonary edema, or fluid buildup.

Jimmy began breathing better. The team whisked him to the Cath Lab.

“Jimmy, I cannot sedate you. Your heart cannot handle more stress,” said Dr. Asfour. So, Jimmy was awake while the Cath Lab team was working on his heart. “They did an arterial stick into my right wrist. I felt the wire threading through my arm, shoulder and then my heart.”

His left main artery was 99 percent blocked. Dr. Asfour asked for a balloon to perform angioplasty; Jimmy felt a twinge in his heart when the stent was placed.

“Can you believe it, Jimmy? Your EKG is coming back to normal already,” said Dr. Asfour. Later, Dr. Asfour visited Jimmy in the ICU and said, “Plaque broke off at your left main coronary artery. We don’t normally stent that area, but I had to, otherwise you would have died.”

Jimmy had smoked since he was 16, which caused inflammation in his coronary vessels and led to the rupture of plaque, sending him into immediate and complete blockage of his left main coronary artery.

All night long in the ICU, Jimmy had reperfusion arrhythmias, which felt terrifying but also meant the stent was successful. These temporary changes in heart beat are common in patients who have had an emergency coronary intervention. Twelve hours later, his heart rhythm evened out. “I’m going to take a nap now because I’m kind of tired,” he said.

After his discharge home on the fourth day, Jimmy laid around for couple of days. He let his grandson cut his lawn. And then, two weeks after coming face-to-face with death, Jimmy began the 12-week Cardiac Rehabilitation program.

Beaumont’s Cardiac Rehab team supports Jimmy’s recovery

Jimmy said, “I really pushed myself in Cardiac Rehab because I didn’t want to be a ‘cardiac cripple.’ And, at home after Debra left for work, I’d work on laying patio bricks in the backyard. I went back to mowing my own lawn, too.”
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When Jimmy graduated from Cardiac Rehab, he could fast-walk a steep incline for 10-minute intervals — not bad for a guy who had just quit smoking for good after his heart attack. “The Cardiac Rehab staff really motivated me because they cared so much about my progress.”
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Now, it’s been more than two years since Jimmy’s heart attack, and he has kept the healthy habits he began in Cardiac Rehab by working out most days before his work shift starts in the OR. “I arrive at 5 a.m., use a stairwell to jog and do push-ups and backward triceps lifts. My co-workers check on me in the stairwell to make sure I’m OK.”
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After a workout, Jimmy cools down, enjoys a high-fiber smoothie and takes his morning medications with a liter of purified mineral water. He showers and then rocks out on his electric guitar in the OR locker room before his shift starts at 7 a.m. Jimmy played in a band for years, but says that lifestyle is for young guys.

Living life to the fullest

“I love my life. Debra and I have a weakness for Disney World; we go there every year. I am especially taken with the park’s Disney character topiaries.”

Jimmy, who will turn 64 in December, taught himself the art of clipping shrubs and trees into ornamental shapes and maintains several topiaries on his property. His living collection includes Mickey Mouse, Winnie the Pooh and others.

A devoted fisherman, Jimmy frequently can be found aboard his boat on the Detroit River and Lakes Erie and St. Clair. “I used to hunt, too, but now I go to Erie Metropark to get a 14-pointer using my Pentax camera,” he said.

Most of all though, Jimmy thanks God, Dr. Asfour and the staff at his hospital for saving his life and giving him many more years with his beloved family. He and Debra have two adult children and four grandkids.

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