AHA News: The day before a checkup, her heart stopped | Health & Fitness

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FRIDAY, July 22, 2022 (American Heart Association News) — Scott Kern didn’t have much time to work out.

As an executive for a discount store chain, he went to work early to get a head start on what was often a 12-hour workday. His incentive was to get home early enough to see his little daughter, Katie, before bed.

Scott, who lives in Norfolk, Virginia, was in relatively good shape. He grew up playing sports, but hadn’t exercised regularly for many years. He knew that he could handle losing a few pounds.

His wife, Trisha, was more health-conscious. She introduced him to healthier foods and often encouraged him to exercise. She was especially worried because she feared what might already be stalking his body. She knew that Scott had a family history of heart disease. His maternal grandfather died of cardiac arrest at the age of 52. Additionally, Scott grew up on a diet of traditional New Orleans cooking, which included lots of butter and fried foods.

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In 2018, Scott made a New Year’s resolution to get healthy.

He started getting up even earlier than usual to have time to go to the gym. Several days a week, he lifted weights and then got on an elliptical machine. The cardio part of it felt harder than he remembered.

“I must have gotten really out of shape,” the then 43-year-old thought.

He recalled that a corporate benefit was a comprehensive health exam with a concierge physician. She made an appointment for February 20.

On February 19, Scott went to the gym, then was at work at 7 am. Some of his colleagues were already at his desks.

Scott walked into his office and collapsed.

Several people heard him hit the ground and ran towards him. Seeing that he was not breathing, they called 911. The group included Dan Hay and Jermaine Bennett, who were trained in CPR. The duo immediately attempted to resuscitate Scott.

Another worker grabbed an AED from the wall. Short for automated external defibrillator, an AED is a portable electronic device that analyzes your heart rhythm and, if necessary, can deliver a shock to try to restore a normal rhythm. No one knew how to operate it, so they were relieved that once opened, the device guided them through every step.

An ambulance arrived within minutes. Paramedics took Scott to the nearest hospital, just a couple of miles away.

Since Scott was unable to breathe on his own, doctors put him on a ventilator and placed him in a medically induced coma. Hours turned into days, which turned into more than a week.

During that time, a doctor told Trisha, “Her MRI is fine, but she’ll probably never wake up.”

“There’s no way I’m going to give up hope,” she replied. “My husband is coming home.”

As she drove to the hospital each morning, Trisha would blast out the tune that has become an inspiring anthem for many: “Fight Song.”

“I needed to prepare myself for whatever I had to face,” he said. “I had to advocate for him every day. It was very, very difficult.”

Doctors and Trisha tried unsuccessfully to wake Scott from his coma several times. It finally happened on the 10th, the day Katie turned 5. Her birthday wish came true.

Although Scott was conscious, he remained on a ventilator while doctors tried to figure out what caused his cardiac arrest. The coma had prevented them from performing certain tests.

Doctors determined that he had had a heart attack. It was caused by blockages in two of his heart arteries. Doctors restored adequate blood flow by inserting two stents through a catheterization procedure. Doctors also determined that Scott had developed a rare complication: an infection in his lungs likely caused by food particles that became lodged there during CPR.

After several weeks in intensive care, Scott was transferred to another hospital for a prolonged recovery. The ventilator was finally removed six weeks after his heart attack and cardiac arrest.

“The fan was the worst part of the whole experience,” he said.

Scott lost many motor functions. He could not write or walk.

While he was still on the ventilator, Trisha had brought him magnetic children’s alphabet boards so he could spell words. With hospital physical therapy, she was able to write again and gradually began to use her legs.

At the end of April, Scott went home.

Initially, he used a wheelchair or walker and relied on supplemental oxygen. Trisha put a chair on the landing of the stairs so she could stop halfway and rest.

That June, he began attending cardiac rehab. The workouts gave him the confidence to get her heart rate up without fear that he was risking her health.

He returned to work part-time in July. By September, she was working full time, just different hours than she had before her heart attack and cardiac arrest.

“I won’t be the first person to work, ever,” Scott said. “First, I exercise and have breakfast with my daughter before she goes to school.”

Scott and Trisha have also started spreading the word about heart disease, lifestyle changes, and CPR and AED awareness. Scott credits Hay, Bennett, and other colleagues with saving his life. The couple has become involved with their local chapter of the American Heart Association. Scott was president of the Hampton Roads Heart Walk in 2020 and will soon be chairman of its executive board of directors.

Scott has followed Trisha’s lead and follows a mostly plant-based diet. He continues to exercise almost daily.

In addition to spending quality time with Katie, Scott and Trisha prioritize their relationship.

“We create a lot of blank spaces in the calendar just for us,” he said.

Between a healthier work-life balance, a renewed devotion to his health, and closer ties to his family and community, Scott is proud of how things turned out.

“I feel better than ever,” he said, “totally energized.”

American Heart Association News covers heart and brain health. Not all opinions expressed in this story reflect the official position of the American Heart Association. Copyright is owned by or owned by the American Heart Association, Inc., and all rights are reserved. If you have questions or comments about this story, please email editor@heart.org.

By Diane Daniel, American Heart Association News

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