Knowing the Signs
The first symptoms Franklin (Gene) Schroeder noticed on the morning of December 12, 2020 were not exactly red flags. As he and his wife Michelle prepared to head out to work on their property in Adrian, Missouri, the farm where Gene grew up, his discomfort was just enough to pause, but not enough to imagine he was having a heart attack.
“I started having, not really a chest pain, it just felt uncomfortable. I was like, no big deal. It’s not like I didn’t work through pain before.”
As a pipelayer, the 54-year-old had actually worked through a heart attack, years earlier, but at the time he didn’t connect his symptoms to his heart. On this morning, he would not be able to ignore it.
Even while resting, Gene’s symptoms increased. Indigestion worsened to nausea, and he had some pain in the back of his left arm. He decided to walk around, but by the time he reached the kitchen he was sweating and his skin felt cold and clammy. His hearing was diminished and he couldn’t speak. All he could do was gesture to his wife Michelle that something was very wrong. She called 911 for an ambulance, and a unit from Bates County Memorial Hospital ambulance services was on the way.
In those moments, Gene thought of his best friend, who had lost his mother to cardiac arrest the week before. Some of his symptoms were in step with what his friend had described.
“That’s when I knew – I’m having a heart attack,” Gene said.
Of all of the events that day, and of all the medical staff members who took part in his care, Gene remembers best the lifesaving actions of one BCMH paramedic. Though he couldn’t remember his name (it was an eventful day), he was very aware of everything the paramedic did, from that initial assessment at his home, his encouraging, supportive presence within the ambulance, advocating for him and his wife in the emergency room, to keeping him alert during the transfer ride to Overland Park Regional Hospital in Overland Park, Kan.
Soon after they arrived at Gene’s home, the paramedics put in a request for an air ambulance, but weather prevented transfer by helicopter that day. They took Gene to the Bates County Memorial Hospital emergency room so he could be stabilized before transfer.
Soon after the ER team began their efforts, Gene said he threw up and felt much better. He asked to sit up, and says that was the last thing he remembered before his heart stopped.
As Gene went into cardiac arrest, or “coded”, the medical staff leapt into action and brought him back. Moments later, his heart stopped again.
Gene said, “Everybody asks me if I saw a light, but no. I blacked out. They shocked me [out of] A-fib, and it was like I was here, but I wasn’t here. When they shocked me again, I remember coming back to, and I breathed so much and so hard I was grabbing people, and I remember that guy got me back down, laid me back down, he kept talking to me—,” Gene pauses, choked up. “I owe my life to him. He saved me.”
“Yeah, I look back on it now and I don’t know what would have happened if that guy … Everybody in the ER did their part, they did what they were trained to do, but this guy went above and beyond,” Gene said.
Later that day, Gene would have two stents placed at Overland Park Regional, an additional three stents in February, and one more in April. After his first procedure in December, his specialists told him he had suffered a previous heart attack to his left anterior descending (LAD) artery, what some refer to as the widow maker.
“Looking back on it after all of this was over, I know exactly when I had it,” Gene said.
About five years earlier, he was working in very cold, outdoor conditions and felt repeatedly overheated, breathless, sweaty and nauseated over a period of two days. Unknowingly, he was having a heart attack. He survived, and in a strange and somewhat rare twist of events, that blockage prompted his heart to create alternate paths to circumvent the blocked artery – possibly what allowed him to survive cardiac arrest in December of 2020.
Gene had also experienced pain in his left hip for several years, which he described as an alternating cold and hot sensation, depending on his activity. He was accustomed to pushing through the pain, but during workouts in cardiac rehab at BCMH, his therapist, Andrea Davis, RN, urged him to stop when he reached those barriers.
His final stent placement in April at Research Hospital cleared a 75% blockage in the artery that travels down the left leg. Immediately after, Gene felt a significant difference, especially while exercising. The pain in his hip was gone, and he could exercise for as long as he needed to.
The Part You Don’t Hear About
Gene tackled recovery as he does many things, with gusto: he quit smoking the day he coded twice in the ER, and signed up for cardiac rehab. He would have preferred to go right back to work, but his doctors insisted he complete the program before returning to his pipelaying occupation. The slower pace of recovery and rehabilitation was frustrating to Gene, who typically plays on three softball leagues in a season, and just two years ago, was a member of Butler’s former semi-professional football team, the West Central Warriors.
To date, he has not suffered another cardiac event, but there were times, he said, when he wasn’t so sure. At first, every time he felt a twinge, or nausea, he wondered if he was about to drop dead.
“I never had anxiety before,” he said. “Awhile later, I was sitting at home, and I felt like I was going to die. I went to the emergency room and he was there [‘that guy’], and he calmed me down.”
Tests showed Gene’s heart was fine; he was having a panic attack.
“Usually, people will have apprehension, stress, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress about the situation,” Dr. Doyle Witt commented, the BCMH emergency physician who cared for Gene in December.
Gene said he struggled with anxiety until, one day, he decided he’d had enough. He told Michelle, “That’s it. I’m not living like this anymore. If I hurt a little bit, I’ll slow down, but I’m not living my life like I’m going to die every day.”
Definitely a Win
In April, the hospital arranged for Gene to meet some of the BCMH team members who took part in his care on December 12, 2020. Gene met Dr. Witt, April Morrow, RN, Chelsay Langford, RN, and “that guy” who saved his life.
Until then, Gene believed one paramedic was “that guy”, but it was actually two: Rich Glossup took the initial call and was with Gene on his way to BCMH, and Russell Whisenand arranged for his transfer, and kept him alert on the transfer to Overland Park Regional. When Gene coded in the ER, Rich and Russ both took an active role in his care.
“It was an extraordinary event for us to have somebody code twice like that, and have a good outcome. So, definitely a win for him and for us, and we’re very happy for him,” Rich said.
Rich knows what it’s like to live in a rural area without close proximity to a hospital or emergency care.
“I think sometimes, when you have a hospital in town, people take it for granted,” said Rich. “I live in Bourbon County, Kansas where we lost Mercy [hospital], and the people there didn’t see it coming until it was upon them. To have a hospital here is a big deal to people, whether they realize it or not,” he said.
Gene specifically requested to complete cardiac rehab at his hometown hospital. It was much more convenient, as the program required three sessions a week, but Gene was also impressed by the emergency care he received at BCMH. They had earned his trust. He graduated from the cardiac rehabilitation program in May, and was cleared to go back to work, to play softball, and to work on his 40-acre farm in Adrian.
Gene with paramedics Russell Whisenand (at left) and Rich Glossup. Rich said, “Definitely, we’re very happy for him, for his family, his wife. That’s hard – she saw him code twice, and the second time I was thinking, oh this is really, really bad. We’re going to lose him. And obviously we didn’t, he’s very happy and we’re very happy for him. I wish they all turned out that way.”