Beating the Odds- Parkwest team saves man from ‘widow maker’

The nurse had just applied the first two adhesive electro pads to Richard Kendrick’s chest when the “widow maker,” deadliest of all heart attacks, gripped his heart and wouldn’t let go.

Despite odds that suggested Kendrick had only a six to eight percent chance of surviving a complete blockage of his left anterior descending artery, Parkwest Medical Center’s heart attack team was not about to let go either.

Even as the EKG monitor showed he had “flatlined” and even when he had no pulse and was “clinically dead,” emergency physicians William Folley, DO, and William Yount, MD, and an army of nurses kept working. After countless chest compressions and more than 30 defibrillator shocks in a half-hour time period, the 41-year-old Knoxville man had beaten the odds: Richard Kendrick was alive.

Like many heart attack victims, Kendrick had written off his symptoms as nothing more than indigestion. But when his wife, Danielle Mitchell, saw that he had turned ghostly pale and was perspiring, she convinced him to make the five-minute trip to Parkwest. There, he was taken to a triage room and prepped for an EKG.

Immediately, the nurse called a “code blue,” alerting the STEMI team. STEMI stands for ST-Elevation Myocardial Infarction, the most serious type of heart attack.

Later, alone outside the critical care unit where doctors and nurses worked to save her husband, Mitchell was an emotional wreck.

“All of our family is five hours away by plane and when people would ask me if I needed to call family to come be with me, I would have to tell them that I didn’t have anybody,” she said, grateful for the receptionist who sat with her the entire time.

Once resuscitated and his heart rhythm restored, Kendrick was rushed to the cardiac cath lab where cardiologist Naresh Mistry, MD, implanted three stents in Kendrick’s heart.

Dr. Yount added that when he thought about Kendrick’s care, he thought about words like “grit,” “intuition” and “determination,” along with “miracle” – “because there were Higher Powers involved in this one, that’s for sure.”

“This is where the art and science of medicine meet miracle in life,” Dr. Yount said. “Most of the time you will resuscitate somebody’s heart, but you don’t get their mind and their soul back. When I saw him afterwards, I couldn’t believe there were no apparent deficits.”

Tammy Wood, manager of Parkwest’s emergency department, also visited Kendrick. “He is a lucky man,” she said. “I told him, ‘There is something you haven’t done. I don’t know what it is – you probably don’t know, either. But there is something you haven’t done.’”

“I have friends who ask, ‘Are you going to make the most of life now? Are you going to go skydiving and do all those crazy things you never did?’ and I say no. I didn’t want to skydive before; I don’t want to skydive now. I want to do normal day-to-day things – I just want to do them with more appreciation.”

Because his left ventricle ejection fraction (the percentage of blood pumped out of the heart on each contracture) was only 20 percent after the heart attack (normal is between 55 and 70), he had to wear a defibrillator vest for three months. He gladly shed the vest on April 18 when his ejection fraction measured 60 percent.

“His most recent echocardiogram showed that his pump function had regained full normal capacity and he’s only on aspirin,” Dr. Yount said. “This is a guy who died, saw the gates, came back and is on aspirin with no obvious permanent damage to his heart.”

Kendrick and Mitchell recently visited the Parkwest emergency department where they dropped off cupcakes and a thank-you card.