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Sudden Cardiac Death

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Norm McElwain walking the track during cardiac rehabilitation at St. Luke's Hospital.
Photo: Norm McElwain walking the track during cardiac rehabilitation at St. Luke’s Hospital.

Norm McElwain knows what it feels like to have a heart attack. At 81, the Marion man has had four previous heart encounters. 

“I felt like this one was the big one,” shared McElwain. “I was totally convinced any delay on my part and I would be dead. It turned out to be very accurate.”

Last May, McElwain felt intense pain in his chest. He said it was different than what he had previously felt when he had heart issues. He and his wife Carolyn rushed to St. Luke’s ER. He doesn’t remember anything after he walked into the hospital.

“He was in triage when somebody called for help and he just died at the check-in,” recalled Nathan Harmon, MD, UnityPoint Health – St. Luke’s Emergency Department. “There were three or four of us in the ER that ran to triage and started CPR immediately. We knew what to do and our team worked efficiently to save his life.” 

“As Nate was performing CPR, Norm was moved to one of our trauma rooms in the ER,” shared Ryan Dowden, MD, St. Luke’s Emergency Department. “We had to deliver two electrical shocks to restart his heart and get it into a normal rhythm. We also gave several lifesaving medications. Our team of experienced emergency nurses and doctors worked efficiently to bring him back to life.”

cElwain was transported to St. Luke’s heart catherization lab as soon as he was stable. 

Fatal Heart Rhythm

“Norm had sudden cardiac death,” explained Richard Kettelkamp, DO, St. Luke’s Heart Care cardiologist. “It’s a fatal heart rhythm. Sometimes without warning this will happen to individuals who have a history of heart artery disease or weakened heart muscle. And if you don’t receive a shock to the heart and advanced cardiac life support, it can be fatal. In Norm’s case he was fortunate to receive lifesaving care in our ER quickly. He went to the cardiac cath lab where he received the Impella pump.”

The Impella is a tiny heart pump, which acts as a temporary artificial heart – pumping blood throughout the body and maintaining blood flow during a cardiac procedure. It also gives the heart time to recover. “Once it was determined there was no heart blockage and he stabilized, Norm had a defibrillator implanted,” Dr. Kettelkamp explained. “Norm’s care was well-orchestrated by our team. Everyone knows their job and took care of things quickly. I believe he’s around today because we have excellent ER doctors and a team who knows exactly what to do to save people’s lives.” 

Experienced Team

“From guest services representatives, flight paramedics, emergency nurses and physicians to the cardiologists and heart center staff; the care team at St. Luke’s is highly skilled and 

experienced in taking care of all types of cardiac emergencies,” Dr. Dowden said.

“St. Luke’s is a fantastic example for the nation,” said McElwain. “Without the incredible teamwork from the doctors and nurses at St. Luke’s, I’d be dead. They saved my life.”

McElwain’s recovery at St. Luke’s also included physical and occupational therapy at St. Luke’s Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (PMR) unit. He worked with the PMR team to regain strength and mobility before returning home. He’s currently participating in St. Luke’s cardiac rehab.

“I’m doing well,” shared McElwain. “The strength in my legs is about 90 percent and my balance is 95 percent. Endurance is at probably 80 percent, so I am working on that. Everyone at St. Luke’s has been great. They push and encourage but are compassionate and sensitive. It’s a team approach in everything. They are darn good."

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