Giving Guy a Second Chance
Guy (left) and his family are grateful for the lifesaving cardiovascular care he received at Ascension Alexian Brothers.
The physical discomfort that had been bothering Guy for days had worsened considerably. He couldn’t sleep. He couldn’t eat. In the middle of the night, he realized he couldn’t move his arm.
His son Vinnie rushed him to the emergency room at Ascension Alexian Brothers, where tests revealed that Guy had suffered a heart attack. Stents were placed to open two blocked arteries. Guy seemed to be recovering well at the hospital, but the day before he was scheduled for discharge, his health took a sudden turn for the worse.
“I was with him in the hospital room. I was talking to him,” said Vinnie. “And he convulsed. I yelled for help. The team came rushing.”
From rapid response to cardiac surgery
Guy was in sudden cardiac arrest. For the next hour or so, the rapid response team provided chest compressions to keep blood pumping through Guy’s body. They shocked him and administered medication. Guy’s pulse would come back; then it would be gone again. Finally, the team was able to resuscitate him. However, the rest of that day and night, his heart rhythm remained unstable, and the following day Guy again went into cardiac arrest.
“The difference was that he was already maximized on medical therapy,” said Shayan Sartipi, DO, critical care.
Guy was in such serious condition that he couldn’t be transferred to another hospital. The team at that point escalated Guy’s care from medical to mechanical interventions. They started using a mechanical chest compression device, called a LUCAS device, to ensure to the greatest extent possible that blood would continue to circulate through Guy’s body and brain. The cardiac surgery team was called in to consult and determined that surgery to connect Guy to ECMO life support was the best chance they had to save Guy’s life.
ECMO surgery and recovery
When the lungs and heart are no longer functioning, but recovery still seems to be a possible destination for the patient, extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) can be used for life support. The ECMO circuit does the work of the lungs and heart while giving those organs time to rest and recover.
“ECMO is primarily done at big academic or tertiary centers,” said Dr. Sartipi. “If ECMO hadn’t been available to us at this hospital, Guy would not be alive today.”
The cardiac surgery team took Guy to the OR. William Stansfield, MD, the cardiac surgeon on call that day, opened Guy’s groin and initiated ECMO life support through the vessels in his leg. Then, once Guy could be disconnected from the LUCAS device, Dr. Stansfield reconfigured the ECMO circuit to pump blood directly through Guy’s chest. Guy survived the nearly 12-hour surgery and spent the next several weeks slowly and gradually recovering.
“His success is not really due to one person or even half a dozen people. It’s due to dozens and dozens of people,” Dr. Stansfield said. “Nutrition, physical therapy, occupational therapy, rehabilitation — all these different groups of people ultimately helped him get back on his feet.”
Watch this video, which was shown at the 2023 Ascension Illinois Foundation gala, about how the team at Ascension Alexian Brothers saved Guy's life.
A new life — and a new grandbaby
A few weeks after his hospitalization, Guy’s daughter-in-law gave birth to Guy’s first grandchild. Worried that the news would be too much for Guy’s still-recovering heart, the family consulted with the clinical team and decided to wait to tell Guy. Little by little, day by day, Guy and his heart gained strength, and his family told him a couple of weeks after the baby’s birth that he had a granddaughter.
“When they told me that the baby was born, I couldn’t wait to see her,” Guy said. “It was unbelievable.”
Edith Boyes was the LVAD coordinator involved in Guy’s daily care while he was on ECMO. “The beautiful part is we gave him a chance,” she said. “It is so impressive that we took the risk to take him back into that ECMO surgery. Now he walks. He takes care of his family. He loves that baby and shows her off to everybody.”
From heart failure to full recovery
The experience — from Guy’s heart attack to surgery to his long recovery — was shocking and traumatic for Guy and his family. Guy’s wife, Michelle, said at times she wasn’t sure if her husband was ever going to walk back into their house.
“And he did,” she said. “On November 14, he walked back into this home. And we’re just so thankful and grateful for everybody, and for everything they’ve done for us.”
Thanks to the skill, expertise and dedication of the entire team — from the emergency department to the critical care unit to advanced heart failure specialists, cardiac surgery and ECMO teams — Guy’s heart completely recovered.
“It’s extremely rewarding,” said Ashish Haryani, MD, advanced heart failure specialist. “There’s nothing like hearing a story or seeing someone doing well after how much they’ve been through.”
“They didn't give up on me.”
Decades ago, Ascension Illinois’s leaders decided to invest in building a cardiovascular program with the same advanced level of care that academic medical centers offer in order to allow people with heart and valve diseases to stay in their own local communities. That investment provided the expert team and care that Guy needed to survive at Ascension Alexian Brothers — the hospital that happened to be closest to his home.
“They call me the ‘miracle guy,’” said Guy. “They’re the miracle team. Because you know what? They didn’t give up on me.”
Today, the community’s philanthropic investment supports the cardiovascular program through the Ascension Illinois Foundation and continues to make this expert team and cardiovascular care available for Guy and people like him — right in the communities they call home.
Learn more about Ascension Illinois Foundation’s current cardiovascular initiatives by contacting Beth Rottman at Elizabeth.Rottman@ascension.org or 708-473-1252.