When a person's health can change at a moment's notice, it's critical to have an emergency room just a few minutes away.
Ken and Carolyn Anderson didn't need that kind of reminder, but life provided one anyway on October 18. It was a beautiful Friday afternoon and Ken, longtime President and CEO of Marshalltown's Chamber of Commerce, was working in his yard. Inside, Carolyn was entertaining a guest.
Suddenly, Ken stumbled into the house and told Carolyn he didn't feel well at all. They got into their car and sped toward the ER at UnityPoint Health – Marshalltown.
However, they couldn't get there fast enough. Ken passed out around the 3rd Avenue viaduct. By the time Carolyn reached the ER, Ken was unresponsive, had no pulse and wasn't breathing. Seconds later, emergency personnel started chest compressions.
"I'm proud of our nurses for their sense of urgency," recalled Dr. Blaine Westemeyer. "Our team members started CPR immediately once Ken was removed from his vehicle. One of our nurses literally got on top of Ken on the transport cot in order to do excellent chest compressions while he was being wheeled into the emergency room."
Meanwhile, Carolyn was walked to the family room and an employee offered to park her car.
The team at UnityPoint Health – Marshalltown, which included Dr. Westemeyer and RNs Jamie Kadner and Megan Heise, stabilized Ken. After family arrived, they speculated this was related to pain he'd experienced recently. They had been affectionately referring to it as "gallbladder pain."
Unfortunately, they were wrong. This was something much bigger.
"Within a couple of minutes, we recognized that Ken's heart was in a dangerous rhythm called ventricular fibrillation," Dr. Westemeyer said. "He received an electrical cardioversion to revert his heart back into a normal, safe rhythm. But it was evident based on Ken's arrhythmia and his symptoms that he was likely suffering from a heart attack."
And a massive heart attack, at that. Ken was quickly airlifted to UnityPoint Health – Iowa Methodist in Des Moines, where physicians discovered that Ken had an artery that was 100% blocked. They put in four stents, then met with Carolyn and her daughter in the hallway.
The physicians said they wouldn't sugarcoat things. They told Carolyn to call family and have them come as soon as possible because there were no guarantees that Ken would survive the night.
"Frankly, I thought maybe they were going to tell me that there was brain damage or something," Carolyn recalled. "That was the toughest thing I think I've ever had to go through."
However, to everyone's amazement, Ken did survive. His blood pressure, which was nonexistent at one juncture, started to climb on Saturday. By the wee hours on Sunday morning, Ken opened his eyes. And by Monday, as Ken was eased off sedatives, he became fully alert.
Just one month later, Ken is in remarkable shape. He tells people he doesn't even feel residual effects of the heart attack. In fact, he doesn't remember much from the ordeal, but he won't forget an interaction he had with his cardiologist, who patted him on the arm and said, "You realize you probably shouldn't be here, right?"
"You can't go through something like that without having a perspective altered," Ken says. "Mortality sort of becomes real."
Carolyn is still amazed at the care and compassion shown by everyone associated with UnityPoint Health.
“It's almost as if they had all just come from a training class on customer service," she says. "It was absolutely great."
"I think the care we got, they did all the right things … and I'm sitting here talking to you today because of it," said Ken. "We'd give that two thumbs up. It was excellent."
"I'm grateful this community has an emergency department like this, which has an amazing and talented staff ready to serve patients like Ken," said Dr. Westemeyer. "In his case, life and death was a matter of minutes."