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Published on February 02, 2017

A Week After Being Dead on Arrival, Rick Martin Walks Away Fully Healed

Quick, expert treatment enables complete recovery from a heart attack.

Rick MartinWhen Rick Martin arrived at the Alamance Regional Medical Center on July 8, 2016, he wasn’t breathing. Just a few minutes before, he’d felt his heart rate slow, and he became weak. His sister was driving him to the hospital when he passed out and started seizing. She dialed 911 and continued driving as fast as she could—hazard lights on, horn honking.

An emergency department (ED) nurse met the car as it drove up. The ED staff placed Martin on a gurney and started CPR on the sidewalk. He was in ventricular fibrillation (an abnormal, life-threatening heart rhythm), and his heart had stopped.

The staff shocked Martin’s heart back into an organized rhythm, but he wasn’t out of danger. Martin was having a serious heart attack; the doctor recommended flying him to Raleigh for further care. Martin’s sister suggested The Moses H. Cone Memorial Hospital in Greensboro. She had experienced exceptional cardiovascular care at Moses Cone Hospital when she’d had a heart attack. The doctor made a call and returned with the good news: An ambulance would quickly get them to Moses Cone Hospital for treatment.

Preparation and teamwork deliver fast results

Jonathon Berry, MD

Jonathan Berry, MD

Jonathan Berry, MD, was on call at Moses Cone Hospital to treat Martin’s heart attack, which was caused by a complete coronary artery blockage. Berry was paged by CareLink, Cone Health’s interhospital ambulance service, as it was bringing Martin in. When CareLink reached Moses Cone Hospital, Martin was brought directly to the catheter lab, where Berry and a team were ready.

Berry accessed an artery in Martin’s groin, sent a catheter up into his heart and, using a tiny inflated balloon (a procedure known as a balloon angioplasty), opened a coronary artery that was fully blocked. Berry knew exactly where to go in Martin’s heart thanks to an electrocardiogram performed at Alamance Regional, which he was able to download and view on his smartphone.

The total time from Martin’s arrival at Moses Cone Hospital to Berry opening his blocked artery? Only 20 minutes.

Time is of the essence when the heart is not getting the oxygen it needs. Tiny pieces of the heart muscle called myocytes die every second they’re deprived of oxygen and they do not regenerate. The heart attack response team at Moses Cone Hospital continuously works to be as fast and efficient as possible for heart attack treatment and recovery.

“Moses Cone Hospital is recognized nationally for the quality of its heart attack treatment,” Berry says. “It’s the teamwork and coordination. It’s the fact that we’ve done it thousands of times so that everybody is highly trained; it’s all ingrained; it’s almost reflex. The team works really well together.”

Innovative procedure speeds healing

Once the blockage in his heart was opened, Martin was moved to the Pulmonary Critical Care unit, where they used the Arctic Sun temperature-management system to cool his body to around 93 degrees Fahrenheit. Cooling the body’s temperature helps reduce cerebral edema (swelling in the brain) and neurological injury in patients whose brains have been without oxygen. Martin was cooled and sedated for 24 hours to preserve brain cells and help him recover from his heart attack.

His family didn’t know what would happen when Martin woke up. Martin’s brain was without oxygen for about three minutes. But once the anesthesia wore off, it was clear the process worked: Martin was clearheaded, and he was walking and talking.

Exceptional care results in a complete recovery

Rick MartinLess than a week later, Martin was discharged from Moses Cone Hospital and well on his way to recovery from the heart attack.

“He was 100 percent intact,” Berry says. “His heart muscle was normal. He had minimal heart damage. His speedy recovery blew my mind.”

For his part, Martin can’t say enough good things about the nurses, the doctors, and the nurses’ aides at Moses Cone Hospital.

“They’re very professional, they treat you with respect, they’re knowledgeable,” he says. “And Dr. Berry put my mind at ease that I can go back to my life and do the things I’m used to doing, which is what every heart patient wants.”

After discharge, Martin was able to continue his recovery with cardiac rehabilitation at Alamance Regional Medical Center. This allowed Martin to have his appointments closer to home while still staying in the Cone Health network of care.

He says now that he’s graduated from cardiac rehab, he continues to visit the Alamance Regional Lifestyle Fitness Center or works out on his own.

“What better evidence could we have of Cone Health's effectiveness than for patients to be able to resume their normal lifestyles, with a few changes, of course,” says Martin. That includes watching his diet.

“I am so happy to report that I feel fine. I truly feel that I have no physical limitations as a result of my heart attack. I have more energy than I've had in years.”