‘I’m the luckiest man alive’: Basalt man survives 2 cardiac events, with help from family, friends, strangers
Michael Latousek of Basalt survived two cardiac events in December — with a little help from his friends
Basalt resident Michael Latousek considered himself a lucky man — then December hit and left no doubt.
Latousek, 53, survived not one but two heart attacks just 12 days apart. He did it with a little help from his friends, his daughters and first responders.
Many of the people who played critical roles by acting fast and providing aid gathered Friday afternoon at an awards ceremony organized by Roaring Fork Fire Rescue.
It was fortunate that the gathering was a celebration of Michael’s life rather than a memorial service, said Fire Chief Scott Thompson.
“You’re a lucky man,” the chief said to Latousek.
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He said he thinks of that all the time.
“It’s been very emotional for the last couple of months,” Latousek said Friday at the gathering. “And not a second goes by that I don’t think of every one of you. Being here is a dream. It was a nightmare and now I’m the luckiest man alive.”
Latousek’s first brush with death came on Dec. 9 when he met Tony Thompson of Basalt and another friend from Grand Junction for a mountain bike ride in Fruita. He completed the first climb of the day when he started feeling chest pain.
“I had no idea what it was. I started feeling a cramp right in between my lungs, right smack dab middle of my chest,” Latousek recounted for The Aspen Times earlier this week.
He powered on for multiple reasons. Foremost, he never had any prior heart issues so he thought he just had an unusual cramp. In addition, he had driven 90 minutes and met two buddies, so he was reluctant to bail on them.
“If I would have been riding locally, I probably would have turned around and gone back to the car and said, ‘Ah, I’m not feeling it today,’” Latousek said.
His group continued on to the Horse Thief Bench loop, which requires a short hike-a-bike to access. After resuming riding, he told Thompson and the other rider to go ahead because he was still feeling out of sorts.
Thompson acted on a hunch that something was wrong when he rode for a ways, looked back and didn’t see Latousek. He found his buddy collapsed on the trail, his left shoe still clipped into the pedal.
“All I remember is having the wildest dreams, the craziest dreams,” Latousek said. “I collapsed and I remember hearing his voice, ‘Michael, Michael, what’s going on?’”
Thompson shook him awake and got him propped against a rock. He marked GPS coordinates of their location on his Garmin watch, then traveled a short distance to where he picked up cell service. He called 911 and got patched in to Mesa County Search and Rescue.
Rescuers came with a helicopter because of the inaccessibility of the terrain. But while waiting for them the incident became even stranger.
Latousek recalled he was sitting there scared and in cold sweats.
“While I’m sitting there I look over to my right and about 20 or 30 feet from me, someone had carved into a rock RIP,” Latousek said. “I’m like, ‘Tony, come here for a minute. I’m totally doomed.’ He’s like, ‘Stop it. Don’t look at that.’
“It was the strangest stuff. I don’t know why I’m alive,” he added.
He estimated the helicopter arrived in 15 or 20 minutes, provided great care and whisked him off to St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction. About one hour and 15 minutes after his collapse, he was being examined by a cardiologist and, soon after, in surgery. He had two stents installed.
The cardiologist told him a build up of plaque clogging a couple of arteries, a common affliction known as the widow maker. The fall on his bike might have jarred the blockage free and potentially saved his life, according to his doctor.
Latousek is still “surprised, amazed and scared” that something so serious had allowed him to ride a mountain bike and breathe normally. He is critical of himself for not heeding the classic signs of a heart attack.
“I just ignored the pains and sure enough, it brought me down,” he said.
Then it happened again
Latousek returned home after three days at St. Mary’s. The second cardiac event on Dec. 21 was even more harrowing.
Michael was home with his two daughters, Lauren, 13, and Taylor, 11, while his wife, Denise, was out of their home taking care of some business. Michael collapsed in the kitchen, hitting his nose, mouth or both and bleeding profusely.
Lauren started CPR, having been trained and certified when taking a babysitting class. Taylor called 911. Lauren had the composure to keep performing CPR for a few minutes until Lt. Aaron Munch and officer Evan Wagstrom of Basalt Police Department arrived.
Munch said he and Wagstrom took over CPR duties when they arrived at the Latousek house in Basalt. They had answered another medical call about an hour earlier that didn’t end on a positive note. They were praying for a better outcome on the second call. It was Wagstrom’s first day on the job for Basalt Police Department.
Richard Cornelius a division chief with Roaring Fork Fire Rescue and coordinator of Friday’s ceremony, said the two police officers performed CPR for close to nine minutes and used their AED defibrillator to apply shocks to revive Latousek. Chief Scott Thompson said they administered three shocks, each stronger and the third at maximum power before they detected a pulse.
Chris Cohan, an off-duty paramedic and, incidentally, a good friend of Latousek’s, heard the call and responded to help render aid. An ambulance team was out on another call at the time but soon another crew arrived to take control of the care and transportation Latousek to Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs.
Munch said he and Wagstrom relied on their training and did their best to keep Latousek alive. It seemed much longer than nine minutes.
“It feels like an eternity,” Munch said.
Cornelius said everything worked incredibly well in the response and care for Latousek, allowing him to beat the odds.
“If you look at outcome of cardiac arrest outside of a hospital, the survival rate is extremely low. It’s usually only ten percent, so there’s a lot of things that have to happen to allow a person who suffers cardiac arrest outside of a hospital to survive.”
He credited Lauren and Taylor for recognizing what was going on and acting fast to call for help. The quick application of CPR was key.
“As you look at a timeframe, every minute that you delay CPR, the victim’s chance for survival goes down 10 percent,” Cornelius said. “So, what you heard today is an amazing story and there were many things that happened exactly the way they needed to happen to have q positive outcome.”
Don’t ignore the pain
Latousek said his doctor determined the second cardiac event was triggered by inflammation from the first event. His heart went into arrhythmia and that resulted in the heart attack.
Latousek said he is grateful that everything worked so well — from having someone around when he experienced his incidents, to quick thinking and action by Tony Thompson, his daughter, the police officers and paramedics.
“There’s just a lot of things that had happened that saved my life,” he said.
His medical care and physical therapy was also top notch, he said. He slept through and rested during January. He was given the green light to do some easy cruising on the ski slopes this week. His physical recovery is going well.
“Mentally, it’s a big struggle,” he said. “I feel very frazzled. I feel very timid and apprehensive and I’ve got to admit, in the last week since I’ve been able to ski, I do kind of feel like the grim reaper is kind of following me around still.”
He said he is a big proponent of therapy, so he has been “unloading on a professional” about his ordeal. “I think I’m going to be OK. It’s just going to take time.”
His advice is don’t ignore chest pain. Get it checked out immediately. The medical professionals also advised a heart stress test and coronary calcium scan to measure plaque.
“It can happen to anyone,” he said.
He is eager for a full recovery so he can continue to pursue his passions of skiing, cycling and fly-fishing. But he will definitely heed any warnings.
“I’ve got a rebirth on life,” he said. “I’m not taking anything for granted.”
Fire chief Thompson said the team effort that saved Latousek’s life was a refreshing close to a tough time in 2020.
“After the year we had,” he said, “it kind of lifted everybody’s spirits.”
Following are the people who were recognized Friday for their efforts helping save the life of Michael Latousek, when he suffered two heart attacks in December.
Tony Thompson was riding with Latousek in Fruita and took quick action to get him aid after the first heart attack. He received a Certificate of Recognition; Roaring Fork Fire Rescue Challenge Coin; and Basalt Police Department Challenge Coin.
Lauren Latousek, 13, Michael’s daughter, started CPR on her father when he suffered his second heart attack at their home. She received the Heartsaver Hero Award; RFFR Challenge Coin; and BPD Challenge Coin.
Lt. Aaron Munch and Officer Evan Wagstrom of Basalt Police Department performed CPR in the second incident. They received the Heartsaver Hero Award and the Lifesaving Commendations.
Several members of Roaring Fork Fire Rescue received the Heartsaver Hero Award and Lifesaving Commendations for their response. They are paramedics Chris Cohan, Evan Levine and Jessica Waltenburg, EMT Eric Goldberger, Lt. Brent Perusse and Battalion Chief Jake Andersen.
Brad Flanagan and Jon VonBehren, dispatchers with the Pitkin County Regional Emergency Dispatch Center received the Heartsaver Hero Award and Lifesaving Commendations.
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