Saturday, December 2, 2017 started out like many Saturdays for Michael Guarracino. The 52-year-old running enthusiast set out on his normal route for his run. He was planning to do about five miles, but his heart had other plans.
Michael, a financial advisor and father of three, has been running for more than three decades. He eats a healthy diet and has never smoked. He has no family history of heart disease.
Still, Michael has had some heart issues, including heart attacks in 2005 and 2013. "It was a shock to have two heart attacks," says an otherwise healthy Michael. After each episode, Michael successfully worked his way back to his regular running routine. He enjoyed being fit and active and ran every day.
During his run that Saturday in December, Michael's heart went into ventricular fibrillation, the most serious irregular heartbeat. The lower chambers of the heart quiver and the heart can't pump any blood, causing cardiac arrest.
In cardiac arrest, the heart suddenly and unexpectedly stops beating. When this happens, blood stops flowing to the brain and other vital organs, usually causing death if not treated within minutes. People who have heart disease are at higher risk for sudden cardiac arrest, however, it can happen in people who appear healthy and have no known heart disease or other risk factors.
The rest of what happened that morning was told to Michael by those who helped save his life. A man who lived nearby happened to be on a walk when he saw Michael on the ground. He was not breathing. The man quickly called 911 and started CPR.
An officer with the Plumstead Police Department who was nearby rushed to the scene. As luck would have it, the officer was experienced with the use of an automated external defibrillator, a portable device that sends an electric shock to the heart to try to restore its normal rhythm. Michael was "zapped" four or five times, he says.
The Buckingham Police arrived to help. A nurse who also happened to be nearby came to help. An ambulance from Central Bucks Ambulance and Rescue arrived and took Michael to Doylestown Hospital.
In the meantime, Michael's wife, Regina, knew something was wrong when her husband didn't come back from his run. She drove his route and did not find him. She called Doylestown Hospital and learned Michael was in the Emergency Department.
After being stabilized, Michael was taken to the Intensive Care Unit where he was treated with therapeutic hypothermia. During therapeutic hypothermia, the healthcare team lowers the patient's body temperature to protect the body after a period of insufficient blood flow. Studies have shown that therapeutic hypothermia can improve survival as well as brain function, according to the American Heart Association. Doylestown Hospital adopted the innovative therapy in 2008.
Michael remained in an induced coma for three days. He was slowly and carefully rewarmed over a two-day period. When he awoke in the hospital, he had suffered no brain damage. He had no idea why he was in the hospital until he was informed about his incredible experience. "If that guy hadn't stopped to help me, I'd be dead."
Michael spent 10 days recovering at Doylestown Hospital. "Everybody was just phenomenal," he says.
In order to prevent another episode of ventricular fibrillation, Michael had a pacemaker/defibrillator implanted. Stephen Sloan, MD, performed the procedure.
Michael is doing cardiac rehab at Doylestown Hospital. "I feel really good," he says.
"We are very lucky to have Doylestown Hospital here," he adds. "It's not only one of the best hospitals in the area, it's one of the best in the country. And it's right in our backyard."
Michael has since been able to thank some of those who helped save his life during the amazing chain of events. He is truly grateful.
"Once I'm finished rehab, my plan is to get back to a normal life," Michael says, looking forward to being able to put the extraordinary experience behind him. "I know I'm lucky. I appreciate being alive."
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About Doylestown Health's Heart Institute
Expert cardiologists and cardiac surgeons assist patients and physicians with managing risk factors for heart disease, offer advanced treatment options and provide outstanding emergency cardiac care. The multidisciplinary team at the Heart Institute is dedicated to providing the highest level of quality care and patient safety.
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