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Heart attack survivor David Ahearn credits hospital teamwork for saving life

August 10, 2015

Published in the June 1, 2015 edition of The Greenfield Recorder

The early morning of Dec. 30, 2014, seemed like any other, well, except for the strange pressure in my upper chest. I popped a couple of Tums, to no avail and had the same result with a baby aspirin. We’ve all heard that a heart attack feels like someone standing on your chest and that is shockingly accurate. I immediately called my wife to get up and dressed as we had to get to the hospital at once. Oddly, neither of us thought to call 911, but since we live a five-minute drive from Baystate Franklin Medical Center (BFMC), it seemed like a good move. I have been assured it was not!

Nevertheless, we made it to BFMC in less than five minutes, and amazingly, there was no one in line at the ER. I announced I was having a heart attack and was led into a treatment room immediately. In the time it took for my wife to move the car 50 feet and come in, I was already being hooked up to the EKG machine and IV needles inserted into each hand. Nitroglycerin did not alleviate the chest pain, but two shots of morphine quickly did the trick. I had no other symptoms, and even my color was good, so I guessed that I had dodged a bullet. The doctor read the EKG, however, and immediately left the room to call the Cardiac Unit at Baystate Medical Center in Springfield.

She came right back and informed us that the EKG was “quite concerning” and that I needed to get to Springfield by ambulance (lights and siren included). Since by now I was in no discomfort, I had no idea how serious my condition was.


Upon arrival at the Cardiac Catheterization Lab in Springfield, I was greeted by Dr. Giugliano, director of the lab, and Dr. Beall. I still had good color and was in no pain whatsoever. After a few questions and listening to my heart and lungs, we adjourned to the Cath Lab, in no particular rush, “to see what was going on.

As I was being prepped for the cardiac catheterization, I was told to be sure and speak up if I was in any discomfort. A small army of doctors and nurses was going through the routine of what they do many times each day when the intense chest pressure suddenly returned. I let them know at once, and the pace of their activity suddenly increased to that of a NASCAR pit crew. No one spoke to me for the next 45 minutes, which seemed rather odd, but I now know that they had their hands full trying to keep me alive. I was wide awake, but really unaware of what was going on around me.

As it turned out, the main artery supplying blood to my heart had suddenly become completely blocked. Such a situation calls for immediate bypass surgery, but my heart was so starved for blood that there was no time to move me to the operating room and begin the procedure. Dr. Giugliano had to immediately place a stent into the blockage to resume the blood-flow, alleviating the condition commonly known as the “widow-maker.”

He later characterized my situation as being akin to winning the lottery. I was in the right place at the right time, with the right team working to keep me in the land of the living. Had I not been there when I was, I would not have survived. It’s just that simple.

I truly cannot say enough about the professionalism of the staffs of the Baystate Franklin Emergency Department and the Cardiac Care Unit at Baystate Springfield. Everyone was not only caring and pleasant, but constantly made you feel that you were the most important patient in the place.

On Feb. 3, I returned for another stent placement that there had not been time for initially. The procedure was done quickly, by the same team, and I returned home in just over 24 hours, feeling great.

To ensure that heart patients work to regain any lost strength and adopt a healthier lifestyle, a 12-week course in cardiac rehab is conducted three days per week right here at BFMC, most ably led by nurses Cheryl May and Patti Bliznak. Although dragging oneself out of bed for a 7:45 a.m. class in below-zero weather is no picnic, you leave the session invigorated and feeling markedly better than when you came in! Pretty amazing.

Last, but surely not least, regular follow-up by a cardiologist, in my case, Dr. Timothy Egan, is conveniently available right here in Greenfield, making periodic trips to Springfield unnecessary.

Now for the really important part … Baystate Franklin has just launched a capital campaign, and I obviously urge everyone to be as generous as possible when invited to participate. It is far too easy to take our local hospital for granted until we need their assistance in possibly saving our lives when we least expect it. As you drive by the hospital, notice that the ongoing construction of a huge new surgical suite is proof of their commitment to Franklin County. Let’s make this capital campaign a clear message of our investment in BFMC as well!

By: David Ahearn
Greenfield resident