A Couple’s Heart Attack Story

Melissa Phelps-Pickens

As a food service supervisor at Johnston Health in Clayton, I see the doctors and nurses from the emergency department (ED), which is just around the corner from my area, almost every day. I see them on a personal level as friends, as they come through our Cafe 42 for meals and snacks. On the surface, they are average folks who joke and have fun with each other as they share a meal.

But a life-altering event with my husband, Steve, gave me insight into a completely different side of these people. In an instant, they transform into a lifesaving team of skilled and compassionate professionals.

Trip to the ED

One afternoon Steve, 57, came home from work in Cary two hours early, which was unusual. As soon as he came in the door, I knew something was wrong. He was sweating profusely and looked pale and grayish. I asked what was wrong. He said he was feeling so bad; he had left work early. I immediately said, “Let’s go to the hospital.” He wanted to lie down and see if the feeling would ease. But a few minutes later, he asked me to drive him to the ED, just one-and-a-half miles from our home.

Rapid Response

When we arrived, I rushed in and told them he had chest pain. They got him out of the car, and the triage nurse immediately recognized what was going on. Instantly about seven members of their accredited chest pain center team sprang into action. They ran an electrocardiogram (EKG) and began emergency procedures to stabilize his condition. How quickly it happened was unbelievable. Within 20 minutes, Steve was treated and on an ambulance to a partner hospital for an emergency heart catheterization.

Nurses Cared for Me, Too

I see these people every day, but to see them transform to their professional mode is something that I will never forget. Beyond saving my husband’s life, they also took care of me. They recognized I was traumatized, and they showed unbelievable compassion for my situation. One nurse came and calmed me, explaining what was going on and what was going to happen. She even contacted my department and got a friend to drive me to the partner hospital.

Outstanding Recovery

Doctors diagnosed Steve’s condition as “the Widow Maker.” The main artery feeding the heart was 99% blocked! They installed a stent to open the artery. Steve immediately responded and began to feel better. In fact, one of the nurses commented, “You look great.” One of his surgeons later told me, “Thanks to the outstanding intervention of the Johnston Health CPC (chest pain center) team at the Clayton Emergency Department, he should have very little, if any, permanent damage.” That’s even though such a long time passed between Steve’s first symptoms and his arrival in the ED.

Lessons Learned

Steve is doing very well. He is back at work, and we are enjoying fishing and other activities. We are both very grateful. I came away from this with three realizations:

  1. When someone has the symptoms of a heart attack, do not waste crucial time hoping it’s indigestion. Immediately seek medical help at the nearest ED.
  2. Underneath the casual, friendly, everyday guise they show in the cafe, the folks in the ED are absolute heroes!
  3. We are very fortunate to have this level of expert care so close to home!

Melissa Phelps-Pickens
Clayton, NC

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