David Barkley, Hendricks Regional Health Engineering Supervisor, is just one of those natural born storytellers. You could listen to him forever as he talks about two very important things in his life – his two grandsons and being a firefighter. But David’s own story nearly had a tragic ending. Fortunately, because of his own quick thinking, as well as the care and diligence of a slew of healthcare professionals, he has lots more chapters to live.
On October 22, 2011, David experienced a heart attack caused by a 100 percent blockage of the Left Anterior Descending (LAD) artery of his heart. This type of cardiac event is nicknamed the “widow maker” because blockage of this artery is often associated with a poor outcome or even death. Many Americans may recall significant news coverage a few years ago about this type of heart blockage after Tim Russert, host of the show Meet the Press, died suddenly from a “widow maker” at only age 58.
David woke up the morning of his heart attack feeling fine. He then experienced a mild twinge of pain in his chest around 7:15 a.m. as he was headed home after his shift at the Danville Fire Department. Just one stoplight later, he knew he had to act. He turned his car around and drove back to the fire station.
A race against time
Surprised to see him, his fellow first responders jumped into action. They evaluated him, started an IV, and administered four baby aspirin as well as nitroglycerin spray under his tongue. By this time, David was soaking wet with sweat and was experiencing shortness of breath. He was transferred by ambulance to the Hendricks Regional Health Emergency Department.
David remembers feeling strangely calm at that point. “I think I was coming to grips with dying,” he said. “But I remember thinking about my grandsons, and worrying that they were too young to remember me.”
Well, that just wasn’t going to happen. Not on emergency physician Dr. Mark Tompkins’ watch. He and his supporting team of experienced nurses immediately worked to stabilize David and give him additional life-saving medication. The St. Vincent StatFlight helicopter stationed 24/7 at Hendricks Regional Health Danville was ready to go. David was flown to St. Vincent Heart Center of Indiana, which saved precious minutes. Hendricks Regional Health and St. Vincent have a cardiovascular partnership, and that has led to a team that works well together to save lives in situations just like David’s.
Upon arriving at St. Vincent Heart Center of Indiana, David was met by Dr. Charles Orr, who is on staff at both Hendricks Regional Health and St. Vincent. Dr. Orr, board-certified in interventional cardiology, had David in the cath lab within minutes. David received a stent to help repair the blockage and restore blood flow.
Miraculously, he has no permanent damage to his heart. David’s success story can be chalked up to one main thing – his own quick response. He didn’t wait to get help. From 7:15 a.m. when he felt the first chest pain, it was less than two hours until he was in the cath lab. Incredibly, the stent was placed before 9:30 a.m. and David’s life was saved.
The many healthcare professionals involved all did exactly what they were trained to do, but it was David that set the ball in motion. In his 22 years as a firefighter and EMT he has seen far too many people that waited until it was too late. And that’s the message most important to him. Know the symptoms of a heart attack or stroke and never wait to get help.
David spent three days in the hospital, and was discharged just in time to make it to his son Josh’s wedding in Maryland. He sat in the front row and couldn’t have been happier or more proud.
Healing David’s heart
David soon began the cardiac rehab program at Hendricks Regional Health, exercising three times a week under the careful supervision of nurses. He also met with registered dietitian Lisa Maccaroni to learn how to improve his diet. Gone are the days of Big Macs and ice tea drowning in sugar. “I always used to put a cup of sugar into a gallon of tea, plus a little to grow on,” he said.
He began eating healthfully, concentrating on portion control, avoiding sodium-laden foods and eating a variety of nutritious options. “Lisa’s advice was very doable and realistic to follow,” David said. He’s proud to have lost 65 pounds in the months since his heart attack, including 8 inches from his waist.
David’s healthy future
David is now working to maintain his weight loss by staying active and following the heart-healthy nutrition guidelines he has learned. At 54 years of age, he’s got a new lease on life – and his health.
Looking back, he’s touched by the support of his fellow first responders, many of whom rushed to the hospital when they heard one of their own was in a life-threatening situation. Being able to continue to help save lives in his community brings it all full circle for David.
And as far as his grandsons go, he doesn’t have to worry that two-year-old Caydon or four-year-old Landon won’t remember him. Now he’s got the time to be sure he makes plenty of memories with them. And that’s exactly what he’s doing.