A Miraculous Recovery for Jim
Jim McGregor was riding as a passenger in his wife’s car in downtown Jacksonville when all of the sudden, he slumped forward in his seat. Noticing he was unresponsive, his wife Christel drove as quickly as she could to Baptist Medical Center Jacksonville’s Emergency Room.
When they arrived, the medical team shocked Jim’s heart so it would beat again normally, but by that time, he had gone several minutes without oxygen. Although it was likely that Jim had suffered a massive heart attack, the medical team was more concerned about his brain function. To help preserve his cerebral activity, the staff reacted quickly and put him in an induced state of hypothermia.
“Induced hypothermia slows the body’s metabolic rate down to the point where the brain’s need for oxygen is greatly diminished,” said Jennifer Fulton, MD. “This helps the affected cells recover and helps to prevent additional brain cells from dying.”
The process requires slowly cooling the body down to 91 degrees with cooling pads and ice. While in this state, the patient is kept comatose and remains this way for about 24 hours, after which the body temperature is gradually warmed back up to normal. “We have to bring the temperature back up very slowly to prevent shock or cause severe electrolyte imbalances,” Dr. Fulton said.
This process is becoming increasingly common and effective for cardiac patients. However, only certain patients are good candidates for induced hypothermia. “If someone comes in with significant neurological dysfunction after we’ve recovered their heart rate, has a life expectancy of more than six months, and has not had any recent surgeries, he or she may be able to benefit from this process,” Dr. Fulton said.
The type of heart attack Jim had is commonly referred to as a “widow maker,” because the blockage to the main coronary heart artery can cause a fatal heart attack. “Jim had a 95 percent blockage of his main artery and blockages in two other major arteries,” said cardiologist Marc Litt, MD. “Jim had a miraculous recovery.”
Once Jim came out of the hypothermic state and it was determined that his neurological function was intact, he had triple bypass surgery to circumvent the blockage.
Jim started in the cardiac rehabilitation program at Wilson-Epstein Center for Diagnostic and Rehabilitative Services at Baptist Beaches a few weeks after he was discharged. “When I first got there, I had to use a walker, but I regained my ability to walk fairly quickly,” Jim explained. “The staff is phenomenal – they monitor you very carefully.”
A year and a half later, Jim is still in the program and has no plans to stop. “There is a great sense of camaraderie in being with people who have all experienced the same thing,” Jim said. “Some of them have been in the program for 10 to 15 years, which is very encouraging.”
In addition to exercise, the program also teaches healthy eating habits and how to deal with the emotional ups and downs of recovery. Physicians, dietitians , nurses, exercise specialists and psychologists all work together to provide patients information on heart health, physical fitness, nutrition and stress management.
“I used to have a Type-A personality,” Jim said. “Everyone in the program is a former Type-A personality.”
Life has changed in many ways for Jim since having his heart attack. He is 35 pounds lighter and walks four miles a day in addition to twice weekly sessions at Baptist Beaches cardiac rehab program. Perhaps most significant, though, is that the event prompted him to change careers from one that was extremely stressful to a job that is more flexible and allows him to work from home.
“I thought nothing of working 12 hours a day, seven days a week,” says Jim. “I have a different perspective on life now.”
At 67, Jim is feeling optimistic about his future. “I shouldn’t be here,” said Jim. “Now I am even better off than I was.”
For more information about living a heart-healthy lifestyle, learn about Baptist’s HeartWise Prevention Program.