When determining the odds of living a long and healthy life, one must factor in a multitude of things, including wise choices, healthy habits and good genes. Beyond that, it typically comes down to old-fashioned good luck, and that’s something Wesley Fenton of Greenville, Ohio, had going for him when he suffered a heart attack known as the widow maker in December 2018.
Fenton, now 59, was a dedicated runner who typically completed up to 20 ultramarathons a year. Understandably, after putting his body through such grueling training and races, Fenton felt he was immune to heart disease.
“I was convinced I was indestructible. You figure you are bullet-proof,” says Fenton. “But you don’t pick your ancestors, and that’s what happens.”
Just two days before Christmas, he was at home, having suffered some bronchial issues, when his chest began to feel ice cold. A hot shower made him feel worse instead of better, so he asked his father to take him to the local hospital in Darke County.
Little did Fenton know that he was having a widow maker — the type of heart attack caused by a 100-percent blockage of the left anterior descending (LAD) artery. The LAD artery carries fresh blood into the heart so that the heart gets the oxygen it needs to pump properly. If it’s acutely blocked, a person can suffer severe injury to the heart or even die as a result.
“The doctor in Greenville diagnosed it right away,” says Fenton. “He revived me. He shocked me with the paddles.” After being transferred to a larger regional hospital where he was revived twice, Fenton was sent to The Christ Hospital in Cincinnati because they deemed doing so was his only chance for survival.
It turns out that Fenton had suffered cardiogenic shock and his lungs stopped working. “At that point, the heart’s pumping function is removed and the patient becomes very sick very quickly,” says nationally acclaimed heart specialist Timothy D. Smith, M.D., FACC, FSCAI, director of the Cardiovascular ICU and ECMO Program at The Christ Hospital, who treated Fenton. “Cardiogenic shock is what we call it when the heart can no longer function to provide an adequate oxygen-rich blood supply to the body. One of the ways you can support that is with extracorporeal membrane oxygenation or ECMO.”
ECMO is offered as a bridge to recovery and/or advanced therapies, such as left ventricular assist devices or, in extreme cases, cardiac transplant. In short, ECMO circulates blood flow and supports the body when the heart can’t. The Christ Hospital has one of the few ECMO programs in the country where there is expertise with this technology to help stabilize patients.
“It saved my life,” says Fenton. “It allowed my body to rest.” Over the course of the following month, Fenton awaited the possibility of a heart transplant. Then one morning, he awoke to a nurse standing at the foot of his bed at The Christ Hospital. His body was making a dramatic recovery.
Fenton’s heart can now pump roughly half as much blood as a normal person, his blood pressure is low, and he has to make sure he’s stable when he stands before walking. While marathon running is no longer an option, he’s pleased that he can now complete a 48-minute cardio rehab workout.
The ability to have access to a regional center of excellence for cardiogenic shock and other cardiac emergencies has been shown to improve outcomes, and in this case, saved Fenton’s life. That’s why The Christ Hospital has partnered with Air Methods to provide Christ LifeFlight to the region.
Air Methods is the leading air medical service, delivering lifesaving care to more than 70,000 people every year. With nearly 40 years of air medical experience, Air Methods is the preferred partner for hospitals and one of the largest community-based providers of air medical services. This spring, The Christ Hospital Health Network announced its partnership with Christ LifeFlight, a subsidiary of Air Methods, to add a new dedicated rotor-wing helicopter for The Christ Hospital. The new base supports the care and transportation of critically ill and injured patients throughout the region.
Along with key medical personnel, Christ LifeFlight provides the hospital with highly trained and certified pilots and mechanics to ensure the safe arrival of all patients. Air Methods operates and maintains the helicopter out of Christ LifeFlight.
“We are consistently improving ways that we can support our patients with the best possible air medical and emergency care options,” says Smith. “Christ LifeFlight’s commitment is a testament to the multi-disciplinary team’s high-level of expertise. These aircrafts provide our citizens with the best opportunity to reach a tertiary center to help reduce response times during life-threatening emergencies.”
Officials from both The Christ Hospital and Air Methods recognized the growing need for an air medical service that can respond to emergencies in the area more rapidly, and determined the need for the additional dedicated helicopter. At a time when more than 85 million Americans live more than an hour drive from Level-1 or Level-2 trauma centers, there is an increasing demand for air medical services to ensure that patients have access to necessary care centers. With the continued consolidation of hospitals and the trend toward centers with specialized heart or neurological care, the clinical support and speed of missions is critical to giving patients the best possible outcomes.
“Our partnership with The Christ Hospital Health Network furthers our mission to provide critical care in the air for anyone who needs us,” says William Dukes, regional sales director at Air Methods. “Between our industry-leading service and The Christ Hospital Health Network’s care, we know that this partnership will continue to grow so that we can continue to provide the Cincinnati area with the services they need.”
The cardiovascular intensive care unit at The Christ Hospital offers technology typically seen at only large, academic medical centers. The same could be said of its physician leadership, nursing staff and clinical expertise. Physicians in all major specialties work together in the 16-bed
Richard T. Farmer Family cardiovascular ICU to provide care for the region’s most severely ill heart and vascular patients. The cardiovascular ICU’s case mix acuity index — which is consistently above 6.0 — is the highest in the region and a testament to the team’s high level of expertise. The team is something for which Fenton could not be more grateful.
“I wouldn’t be here without them,” he says.
For more information about The Christ Hospital and its cardiovascular care services, call 513.713.0999 or visit www.thechristhospital.com/heart.