Second Chance After Cardiac Arrest
Cardiac Rehab at Illini motivates heart patient
There’s a reason Darrell Priebe and his family and friends will wear t-shirts that say “second chance” at the Quad Cities Heart Walk later this month.
“Second chance” refers to the 49-year-old’s view on life ever since he went into cardiac arrest at home last Jan. 21 on Martin Luther King Day. The date is significant because his 18-year-old son, Sajen Cruz, happened to be home from school for the holiday.
Darrell Priebe exercises in Phase 2 Cardiac
Rehabilitation at the Genesis Medical
Center, Illini Campus under the supervision
of exercise specialist Nicky Omeara.
He survived a cardiac arrest Jan. 21.
Sajen heard him collapse upstairs, rushed to help him, called 911 on his cell phone, and began the chest compressions he had learned during CPR training at Alleman High School. Silvis police were nearby, quickly responded and used an automated external defibrillator (AED) to jumpstart his heart until Genesis Ambulance arrived. Priebe was rushed to the Genesis, Illini Campus Emergency Department, where a medical team fought to save his life.
At that point, he already had defied the statistics: About 95 percent of cardiac arrest victims die before they even get to the hospital, according to the American Heart Association
Lucky to be alive
“I’m so lucky to be alive...I’m fortunate to be among the very small minority of victims who actually survive a Code Blue,” says Priebe, who works in electrical maintenance at Exelon in Cordova, Ill.
Today, more than three months later, Darrell Priebe cherishes his “second chance” whenever he goes to Phase 2 Cardiac Rehabilitation at the Illini Campus. He exercises under the supervision of nurses and exercise physiologists, who have motivated him to transform his life with heart-healthy habits.
“I enjoy the Cardiac Rehab staff,” he says. “They’re serious about watching out for you as you exercise and helping you to change your lifestyle to benefit your heart.”
He’s the youngest participant in his Phase 2 Cardiac Rehab class, which serves as another reminder to never take his “second chance” for granted. Cardiac arrest is the abrupt loss of heart function in a person who may or may not have been diagnosed with heart disease. It occurs instantly, or shortly after symptoms appear.
“It was an eye-opener...a humbling experience. A lot of co-workers have told me, ‘Man, we didn’t expect you to have a heart attack,’” he says. “I wasn’t really overweight. I’d walk a lot at work and figured I was getting enough exercise. But looking back now, I had warning signs I shouldn’t have ignored.”
Raising money to fight heart disease
He and his family will participate in the Quad Cities Heart Walk wearing “Second Chance” t-shirts designed by his youngest daughter, Sonya. They will have raised more than $2,000 for the walk, to be held Saturday, May 18, in The District of Rock Island. Genesis is one of the walk sponsors and will have several teams participating.
He hopes his story will help others recognize and heed the warning signs of heart disease he so easily dismissed.
He had a strong family history of coronary artery disease, which he couldn’t control. However, he had been diagnosed with high cholesterol and wasn’t taking his cholesterol medicine as regularly as he should. He also had experienced pains in his chest, a symptom he later would discover was caused by three arteries that were almost completely blocked -- one commonly called the “widow-maker” because it was in the left main coronary artery of his heart.
“I would be lying in bed and my chest area would hurt,” he recalls. “I’d just dismiss it because the pain would only last a few seconds and then go away. I thought it was maybe because I’d smoked too many cigars. In hindsight, my heart was starving for oxygen.”
Illini Cardiac Rehab nurse Richelle Roethler, RN, says it’s common for people to ignore the warning signs. “They don’t realize it’s their heart,” Roethler says. “They think they have indigestion. Or they are short of breath or fatigued, but they think it’s because they’re getting older or catching something.”
She added, “We’re seeing more young people with heart disease like Darrell. Hopefully, his story will send a message: It’s important to listen to your body. If you notice any changes like shortness of breath or chest pain, go to your doctor and get it checked out.”
Priebe was fortunate in many ways, Roethler says. “An unusually low number of people actually survive a Code Blue, and the fact his son began CPR almost immediately increased his chances of survival considerably. That’s what we call a witnessed arrest.”
As a kid, Darrell Priebe remembers having to go to the Illini Emergency Department (E.D.) for minor injuries. He never dreamed he would be rushed through its doors as an adult, with his heart stopped.
“Seconds were crucial, and I wouldn’t have survived if it hadn’t have been for the first-responders and the excellent care I received from cardiologist Dr. Sanjeev Puri, who was called to the E.D., and emergency physician Dr. Wayne Gallops and staff,” he says. Priebe was intubated; put on an aortic balloon pump because his heart was too weak; taken to the ICU; and, then transferred hours later in anticipation of needing open-heart surgery. He ultimately received three stents in his heart and was grateful to go home on Super Bowl Sunday.
He had been given a second chance.
His wife, Cheryl, who works as a medical assistant on the Illini Campus, will never forget the life-saving emergency care her husband received at Illini on that frightening day.
“My husband is alive today because he had the best doctors, nurses and staff there that day. Their care was crucial to his survival, and I couldn’t have asked for a better medical team to stabilize him. This was so out in left field because my husband is only 49. Everyone at Illini -- from the E.D., Cath Lab and ICU staff to Spiritual Care and registration and admitting staff -- were so kind and professional. We were kept well-informed of my husband’s condition, and everyone made sure we were comfortable and had everything we needed.”
“I gave everyone a scare,“ Darrell Priebe concludes. “I was very, very lucky, and I’m working hard now to establish those heart-healthy habits in Cardiac Rehab.”