By Starrla Cray
DELANO, MN His heart had stopped, but theirs were pounding.
“It was like your worst nightmare. It was the worst day of my life,” rural Delano resident Nancy Ganzel said, recalling the day her husband, Dwayne, suffered six cardiac arrests.
However, thanks to Delano’s volunteer firefighters and Ridgeview Medical Center paramedics, the day didn’t end there.
“The surgeons said, ‘your first responders saved your life, literally. They must be really well trained,’” Dwayne said.
The morning of the heart attack (Dec. 9) started out like any other Friday for the Ganzel family.
Fifteen-year-old Hannah and 13-year-old Natalie were getting ready for school, while Nancy packed lunches. At about 7:30 a.m., Dwayne went outside to start his truck, planning to take his daughters to school.
“It was just a normal day,” Nancy said.
But then, Dwayne came back into the house, telling Nancy that he suddenly didn’t feel well.
At first, it was just dizziness. Then, a “numb feeling” in his arms.
Within 15 seconds, an ache radiated from Dwayne’s elbows through his chest.
“In another 30 seconds, the pain was off the charts,” he said. “It was excruciating. I have never hurt that bad.”
Nancy called 911, and the dispatcher told her to have Dwayne chew an aspirin while they waited for help.
About five minutes later, Bob Van Lith, Matt Van Lith, and Jeff Otto of the Delano Fire Department arrived, seeing Dwayne writhing on the floor in agony.
Matt was about to prep the ambulance crew, when Dwayne unexpectedly went into cardiac arrest.
“I got the girls, and we sat on the stairs and just prayed, ‘please don’t take him,’” Nancy recalled, adding that Otto, who knows the family from their years at St. Peter’s School, came and wrapped his arms around them.
Matt started chest compressions, and the paramedics used a defibrillator to get Dwayne’s heart started again.
A harrowing ride
From there on out, Dwayne remembers an oxygen mask being placed on his face, and seeing the back of the ambulance door, but not much else.
Nancy climbed into the ambulance with Dwayne, while Otto took the girls to their grandparents, Ted and Millie Ganzel, who live nearby.
The ambulance was only about a mile out of Delano before Dwayne went into cardiac arrest a second time.
Ridgeview paramedic Brandy Praker and Matt Van Lith worked on getting Dwayne’s heart pumping, while paramedic Scott Hatlestad pulled the ambulance over to assist.
“They wanted three people working on me instead of just two,” Dwayne explained, adding that Otto came back to ride with them the rest of the way.
The extra support proved necessary soon after, when Dwayne suffered his third, fourth, fifth, and sixth cardiac arrests in the ambulance.
“I put my head down and put my fingers in my ears, and grabbed my rosary to have something to hold onto,” Nancy said. “It was too much for me.”
Time for two stents
When they finally pulled into Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis, Dwayne awoke to a team of medical professionals hovering over him.
“They all stood around me in a circle, like a choir,” he said. “Abbott’s heart hospital is number-one in the area.”
An angiogram showed a 100-percent blockage in Dwayne’s left anterior descending (LAD) artery, with permanent damage.
Doctors placed two stents in the artery, and Dwayne spent the next two days in intensive care.
Now, about two months and 26 cardiac rehab sessions later, Dwayne’s heart attack appears to be little more than a distressing memory.
“I feel excellent,” Dwayne said. “Despite the dramatic entry, it was really a pretty routine thing. It’s not like I had open heart surgery or anything like that.”
Stents are one of medicine’s most common devices and are implanted in about 1 million Americans annually, according to an article in the Wall Street Journal.
However, as an active 50-year old carpenter with normal blood pressure, Dwayne wasn’t the most likely candidate for a heart attack.
CNN reports that the average age for a first attack is 66 for men and 70 for women. Other risk factors include inactivity, obesity, high blood pressure, cigarette smoking, high cholesterol, and diabetes.
“Usually there are warnings signs like getting dizzy when working out but I had none of that,” Dwayne said.
The Ganzels are immensely grateful to those who helped save Dwayne’s life Dec. 9. To show their appreciation, they brought homemade heart-shaped cookies, milk, and a thank-you card to the Delano Fire Department’s Feb. 9 meeting.
Ridgeview paramedics Brandy Praker and Scott Hatlestad also attended, sharing conversations they had with Dwayne that he doesn’t remember. Apparently, every time Dwayne was about to go back into cardiac arrest, he’d tell them he was “going to take a nap.”
For Praker, it was the toughest ambulance ride she has ever been on.
Each year, the Delano Fire Department responds to more than 400 medical calls, and not everyone’s story ends as happily as Dwayne’s.
Paramedics told Dwayne that they have a 50 percent chance of restarting someone’s heart after one cardiac arrest.
With less timely treatment, the survival rate is much lower, and with no treatment, the person will die.
“And they brought me back six times,” Dwayne smiled. “I’m not sure what those odds are.”