Flawless chain of survival saves heart attack victim - Republic-Times | News

Flawless chain of survival saves heart attack victim

By on August 3, 2016 at 1:06 pm
Pictured with heart attack survivor Dave Altvater (center), from left, are Anthony Perez of Columbia EMS, Columbia police officer Ryan Doetsch, and Brandon Layton and Tim May of Columbia EMS. (Corey Saathoff photo)

Pictured with heart attack survivor Dave Altvater (center), from left, are Anthony Perez of Columbia EMS, Columbia police officer Ryan Doetsch, and Brandon Layton and Tim May of Columbia EMS. (Corey Saathoff photo)

Thanks to the quick response of one police officer and a seamless transition from ambulance personnel to the hospital, Dave Altvater can now say he beat the “widowmaker.”

The 57-year-old Columbia man was watching television at home the evening of June 30 when he had a sudden feeling of indigestion in his chest area.

“I didn’t think much of it,” Altvater told the Republic-Times.

Then everything went black.

Altvater had suffered a sudden, vicious form of cardiac arrest known as the “widowmaker,” so named because it involves the main artery that runs down the front of the heart and in most cases results in death.

“It just hit me that fast,” Altvater said.

Altvater, who works in the information technology field, said he had felt some discomfort in his chest before, but received no prior indications of heart trouble and maintained fairly normal blood pressure and cholesterol numbers.

Peggy Altvater saw her husband passed out on the couch and quickly called 911. Columbia emergency dispatcher Stephanie Matsantonis calmly talked Peggy through the steps of care in this situation while also alerting police and ambulance personnel to respond.

“There was no panic,” Dave recounted from what Peggy had told him. “My wife said it was like clockwork.”
The critical links in the out-of-hospital “chain of survival” are recognition of cardiac arrest and activation of the emergency response system, early cardiopulmonary resuscitation with an emphasis on chest compressions, rapid defibrillation, and basic and advanced emergency medical services.

Columbia police officer Ryan Doetsch was first to arrive on scene. He immediately worked with Peggy to get Dave on the floor and began CPR until Columbia EMS arrived.

“Dave didn’t have a pulse and he really wasn’t breathing,” Doetsch said.

About 90 seconds later, Brandon Layton, Anthony Perez and Tim May of Columbia EMS arrived at the Altvater house in an ambulance.

Columbia police Sgt. John Simon also assisted at the scene.

The Columbia EMS staffers quickly hooked Dave up to a cardiac monitor to provide electric shock and used an AutoPulse device for mechanical ventilation.

They were able to get his pulse back while inside the ambulance.

From arrival on scene to arrival at St. Anthony’s Medical Center in St. Louis County, the entire process took about 25 minutes, Layton said.

“We notified the hospital and they had the whole cath lab waiting for us when we arrived, which kind of transitioned everything how it’s supposed to go,” Layton said.

Dave had a stent put in and was prescribed blood thinners and other medication as part of cardio rehab, and was released from the hospital on July 9. He is still amazed by the response of Columbia’s emergency personnel.

“It was a difference between life and death,” Dave said. “Without all of the equipment and training they have, I wouldn’t have made it. Everything just fell right into line.”

Layton said he can count on one hand the number of widowmaker heart attack patients helped by Columbia EMS that have survived over recent years.

“That part of the blockage of the heart is pretty deadly,” he said. “He had a very low chance of survival. For him to have that and be here right now is miraculous in itself.”

Layton added that Columbia police are well-trained for these types of medical situations, making the early links in the chain of survival very strong.

“Without the police officer starting CPR, we would have a delayed time to get the patient defibrillated,” Layton said. “It starts with the police department, because they are going to get there before we do.”

Columbia Police Chief Jerry Paul heaped praise on all involved in this life-saving effort.

“Every emergency call is a team effort,” Paul said. “Police, fire and EMS maintain an excellent working relationship on a daily basis. Great job by each employee.”

The father of six grown children they helped bring back to life wholeheartedly agrees.

“They definitely saved my life,” Dave said. “I’m one of the lucky ones.”

Corey Saathoff

Corey is the editor of the Republic-Times. He has worked at the newspaper since 2004, and currently resides in Columbia. He is also the principal singer-songwriter and plays guitar in St. Louis area country-rock band The Trophy Mules.