LAMONT – It’s not every day that a critically ill man who has suffered a massive heart attack gets to meet the first responders who took care of him. In some cases, the patient doesn’t make it.
However, that wasn’t the case on Monday, August 5, when Duane VanWie, 43, of Lamont had the opportunity to sit down with members from a number of agencies who provided the critical care he needed – when he needed it – on May 23 of this year.
Duane awoke around 1:40 a.m. and asked his fiancée, Sandra Conway, to get him a glass of water. “He’d been having chest pains for three or four weeks,” Sandra said, “but Covenant told him it was GERD.”
GERD – or gastroesophageal reflux disease – is a digestive disorder that affects the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), the ring of muscle between the esophagus and stomach, and allows the stomach’s contents to back up into the esophagus.
Sandra went to get the glass of water, and that’s when she heard Duane fall. “I knew it was a heart attack. I was freaking out!” She found him on the bedroom floor, ran to the neighbor’s house for help, and called the ambulance.
The neighbor helped her get Duane moved up against the wall. His skin was already turning gray. He wasn’t breathing, and Sandra started performing CPR. She has 20+ years of experience as a CNA and is certified in CPR. Bruce took over for her until help arrived while she spoke with the dispatcher and tended to her children, three of whom were in the house at the time.
”He’s Not Gonna Die”
Amid all of the worry and chaos, one thing stands out in Sandra’s mind. When Joe Rawson of Lamont’s EMS walked in the door, and saw Duane with young children in the house, he said, “He’s not gonna die.”
Lamont Fire & EMS were among a number of agencies that responded to the 911 call. Buchanan County Dispatch’s Michelle Smith answered the 911 call. Buchanan County Sheriff’s Office, Strawberry Point Ambulance Service, Regional Medical Center Ambulance Service, and LifeGuard Air Ambulance of Cedar Rapids all came to Duane’s aid.
In addition to the human response, a vital piece of equipment in the Lamont EMS arsenal was used by local personnel for the first time – LUCAS, an easy-to-use mechanical chest compression device that helps lifesaving teams around the world deliver high-quality, guidelines-consistent chest compressions to sudden cardiac arrest patients. The device can be used in the field, on the move, and in the hospital.
“We just got the system this spring,” Joe Rawson said. “Duane is the only patient to use it.”
The LUCAS device was made available through a grant and the Bureau of EMS.
In addition to the emergency medical personnel on the scene, firefighters from the Lamont Fire Department ran the comm (communication) lines and prepared the landing zone at the town’s ball field for the LifeGuard helicopter to touch down. Those individuals who were present on Monday night include Joe Opperman, John Cook, Keith Haynes, Jake Haynes, Kevin Haynes, and Terry Crow.
Duane was brought to the field by ambulance. From there, it was a 15-minute flight to Cedar Rapids. Then he was taken by ambulance to the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics (UIHC) in Iowa City. Duane spent 24 days in Iowa City, followed by 10 days of rehabilitation at St. Luke’s Hospital in Cedar Rapids, before returning home.
“I lived in the hospital during those days,” Sandra said. At one point, a doctor told her, “[Duane] is the sickest man in the whole hospital.” His left anterior descending (LAD) artery was 99% blocked. “They called this type of heart attack and blockage the widowmaker,” Sandra added.
In Iowa City, doctors used ECMO – extracorporeal membrane oxygenation – a technique of providing prolonged cardiac and respiratory support to persons whose heart and lungs are unable to provide an adequate amount of gas exchange or perfusion to sustain life. The impact of the treatment on Duane’s survival and recovery are tremendous. According to Jordan Kelly, the LifeGuard pilot who flew Duane to Cedar Rapids, St. Luke’s is looking to implement ECMO in early 2020.
The medications he was on during his stay were intense, and he actually had two seizures while being weaned off of them in the hospital. But despite it all, Duane came through.
“He asked for me when he woke up,” Sandra said with a faint smile.
An Amazing Recovery
The doctors are astonished at his recovery. “His heart is 100% recovered,” Sandra said.
During the event at the fire station on August 5, members of the various agencies talked to Duane about their role in his case, the technology they used, and how glad they were to see him on the road to recovery.
As for Duane himself, he is very thankful for these people. He wants others to respect the EMS community – especially the volunteers like those in Lamont – as much as he does.
Needless to say, it was an emotional evening for everyone in attendance. Duane and his family couldn’t be more grateful to the people in Buchanan County, at St. Luke’s, and at UIHC who helped him recover and come home.