On May 20, the American Heart Association is sponsoring the Southern Maine Heart Walk in Portland. It is difficult to find anyone whose life has not been touched by heart disease, whether their own or that of someone close to them. Here is my story.
My wife, Patricia, and I are from away; we moved to Portland four years ago and became owners and innkeepers of the Inn on Carleton in the West End. We came to Portland to live in a beautiful, vibrant small city and have enjoyed the wonderful music venues, restaurants and sporting activities. One of our favorites is cross-country skiing. Each winter we have enjoyed the variety of terrain in and around Portland.
I think we all recall the extremely cold start to the year and significant late-December and early January snowfalls. On the first Sunday of January, the temperature climbed to a rather balmy 14 degrees with brilliant sunshine – perfect for a cross-country ski run at Riverside Golf Course. Trails are groomed with the help of Portland Nordic, and the conditions on that day were perfect.
We started our run in early afternoon and did one of our favorite loops, stopping for photo opportunities along the way. Toward the end of the run, Patricia was a bit ahead of me, and she stopped to capture one more photo. Turning, she saw me lying in the snow – not in a playful way, but face down. Coming near, she recognized I was unconscious. In terror she called out for help and pounded on my chest. An answer came from the next skiers over the hill. Patricia’s plea to call 911 was answered with “Let me help, I am a doctor.”
Dr. Charles Cathcart recognized immediately the severity of the situation: sudden cardiac arrest. Asking his fellow skier to call 911, he immediately and for the next 25 agonizing minutes performed CPR. During this time I never regained consciousness and intermittently had no pulse. Since we were nowhere near a road, the EMTs struggled through hip-deep snow and needed a sled to transport me to the ambulance. I have no idea how often a doctor can truly say he or she saved a life – on the spot – but Dr. Cathcart saved mine on that cold afternoon.
For two days I lay in a coma at Maine Medical Center and received the most incredible care from some of the most wonderful people on earth. The outpouring of support from family and friends gave hope to Patricia that I would recover. Ironically, lying in snow with bitter-cold temperatures was good fortune in that the cold helped save me. I regained consciousness Tuesday without any memory of what happened; looking around, I recognized my wife and oldest son – I thought it odd, since he lives in Utah – but not where I was. The nurses gave me the moniker of “Miracle Man,” since the odds were really against me making it.
The following week, bypass surgery was performed; the skilled doctors and nurse made it almost seem routine, and by the afternoon on the day of surgery I was sitting up in a chair. It was simply unbelievable, given where I’d been eight days before.
The care and support from family and friends do not end leaving the hospital. And Maine Medical Center’s Turning Point Program helped give me back my strength and confidence through guided exercise and education – again, incredible and caring people.
We moved to Portland for many reasons, and it turns out that the best reasons of all are those that gave Patricia hope that I would survive and the skilled doctors (some who, thankfully, love to cross-country ski) and caregivers at Maine Med.