His heart stopped working, but his doctors didn't
By Jennifer Rea
When Duane Bratvold’s heart wouldn’t maintain a beat during emergency surgery after a heart attack, doctors had little hope that he would survive, let alone wake up without brain damage.
“They call me their miracle baby,” Bratvold says with a laugh, referring to the cardiac team that saved his life at MultiCare Good Samaritan Hospital in Puyallup.
The trouble started when Bratvold began experiencing back and arm pain, as well as what felt like indigestion. He told his wife, Connie, to call 911. Shortly after, his heart stopped and he collapsed.
Bratvold’s family later learned that he had suffered ventricular fibrillation.
Ventricular fibrillation describes a heartbeat that’s out of sync. The electrical impulses that control the heart’s pumping become irregular, and the lower compartments of the heart — the ventricles — flutter very fast instead of beating steadily. It’s potentially fatal.
At the time of Connie’s 911 call, 18 East Pierce Fire & Rescue firefighters were training nearby in a class on how to deal with a V-fib emergency situation. All 18 firefighters arrived on the scene shortly after Bratvold’s collapse, performed CPR and rushed him to Good Samaritan.
Cardiac specialist Dr. Daniel Guerra immediately got Bratvold into an operating room, where he induced a coma and placed an emergency stent in Bratvold’s heart. During surgery, Bratvold flat lined multiple times, and Dr. Guerra had little hope that Bratvold would survive the surgery.
The cardiac team explained that Bratvold’s heart attack was so severe that he was likely experiencing it for three or four days before he was brought to Good Samaritan. They caught it just in time, as there was no damage to his heart after surgery. Besides some high blood pressure and a cracked sternum from the firefighters performing CPR, Bratvold says his heart attack truly ended as "a miracle."
“It was a group effort by Dr. Uma Krishnan and Dr. Guerra, who we consider part of our extended family,” Bratvold says. “We were all touched by this event.”
The road to recovery
When Bratvold woke up in the critical care unit four days after arriving at the hospital, he had a breathing tube down his throat and was restrained in bed. His wife quickly got him a pen and a paper plate on which he wrote “forehead hot.” This little phrase was Connie’s first sign that her Duane had come back to her, but they both knew he would have a long road of recovery ahead.
“The care my family and I received at Good Samaritan Hospital was absolutely unbelievable,” says Bratvold. “You can’t train compassion. That is something someone must have when you hire them. The staff at Good Sam showed that compassion by treating us not like I was dying, or even just like a patient, but instead treating us like real people.”
'It’s all about the people'
Today Bratvold has been given a new lease on life. His priorities have become focused on spending time with his family, and sharing how thankful he is for not only the people who saved his life, but also the people he comes into contact with every day.
“It’s all about the people,” Bratvold emphasizes. “What MultiCare did to revamp Good Sam is absolutely incredible, but the whole attitude of the employees is different too. What all of the people there did for me and my family makes me want to give back.”
This was not the Bratvold family’s first positive experience with Good Samaritan. A few months before Duane’s May 2012 heart attack, his little grandson, Liam, contracted MRSA and was treated at Good Samaritan.
“He had what we thought were bug bites, but it ended up being MRSA,” said Bratvold. “I arrived at the hospital about 30 minutes after Liam, and there was already a surgeon in his room ready to remove the infection.”
'A shining example of what a hospital should be'
Bratvold was able to attend Grandparents’ Day at Liam’s kindergarten. He also joined the board of directors for the East Pierce Fire & Rescue Foundation as a means of supporting the team that saved his life. His brush with death, and his experience at Good Samaritan that followed, has made him a new man.
“Good Samaritan Hospital is a shining example of what a hospital should be, and Puyallup deserves it,” beams Bratvold.
The only thing Bratvold felt could have improved his recovery at Good Samaritan was the chance to talk to someone who had survived a similar grade heart attack. The fear of the unknown recovery process ahead caused Bratvold and his family a great deal of anxiety, and is something he would like to prevent others from facing.
Bratvold’s experience has urged him to be a voice of encouragement to anyone dealing with a similar health situation. He has committed to sharing his story at every opportunity so others do not have to be afraid of recovery, and can share in his thankfulness for those at Good Samaritan who saved his life.