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‘They saved my life two times’

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EL JEBEL – Theresa McGuire didn’t have any astounding visions during a near-death experience Dec. 28, but in a different sense, she’s seen the light.

The 49-year-old El Jebel resident was lucky to survive a heart attack essentially unscathed. Now she’s making changes in her life and sharing her story to possibly save other lives.

“I thought, maybe there was a purpose for this,” she said.

McGuire’s saga unfolded on a Monday morning at the Basalt real estate office where she works. She went to work with a slight hangover and by late morning developed a bad case of heartburn. She’d conquered prior cases of heartburn with an antacid, but not this time. The burning in her chest just kept getting worse.

“It felt like a volcano getting ready to erupt,” she said. The tips of her fingers were also tingling.

That led to the first in a series of wise decisions and lucky breaks. McGuire told a colleague at Chaffin Light Real Estate she thought she was suffering a heart attack and had the person call 911. Basalt Fire Chief Scott Thompson happened to be driving a short distance from downtown and answered the call within minutes. He gave McGuire aspirin and put her on oxygen to stabilize her until the paramedics arrived a few minutes later.

They packed her up and set off for Valley View Hospital, alerting the staff there that they had a victim of a possible cardiac event. McGuire said she was alert and even joking with paramedics James Garner and Mike VanWieren while en route.

Any doubt about a cardiac event disappeared as they drove past Aspen Glen, when she went into cardiac arrest. Her heart didn’t stop, but went into a stage where it was like a “bowl of jelly that’s giggling,” Thompson said. Her heart wasn’t beating properly, creating the threat that her brain would be deprived of oxygen.

The paramedics attached two pads to her chest and applied two short, powerful shocks that got her heart functioning properly. They radioed Valley View to upgrade the event and were met minutes later at the emergency room by the cardiologist and cauterization team.

McGuire had a stint applied to open her femoral artery, which was 99 percent blocked. It took just 42 minutes from the time her colleague placed the 911 call to when she went “under the knife,” as she called it.

By Monday night she was aware of what had happened and on the road to recovery – sore from the shocks, but recovering. “My whole body was sore, from my hair follicles down to my toes,” she said. But the damage to her heart was minimal.

McGuire convalesced Tuesday and was released from the hospital Wednesday, two days after the event. She feels better than prior to the event and is sleeping better as well.

McGuire recently visited the paramedics, who were part of a team of 15 who responded to her incident from Basalt Fire-Rescue. (The department downplays individual recognition because rescues are always a team effort.)

“I thanked them from the bottom of my heart. They saved my life two times,” McGuire said.

“When I went and saw them all, they said, ‘You scared us,'” she added. “Then I came back. It doesn’t happen like that all the time.”

Thompson said getting the visit from the fully recovered McGuire was gratifying in a nearly indescribable way.

“It’s like the Super Bowl,” he said. “We made a difference. That’s why we do it.”

Rescuers often save the lives of cardiac arrest victims, but often their quality of life suffers significantly. It’s not up to the rescuers to play “angels” and determine if saving the life was worth it for the victim, Thompson said.

The two paramedics in the case said it was intensely satisfying to help save a life. “We’re not used to getting good news, even if we do everything right,” VanWieren said.

Federal medical privacy laws make it difficult for even rescuers to learn the fate of people they treat. That’s what made McGuire’s visit special.

In McGuire’s case, her decision to place the call for help when she wasn’t feeling well was critical. If she had suffered cardiac arrest at her office, she probably would have died, Thompson said.

Garner said in 30 years as an emergency medical technician, the last six as a paramedic, he’s never had a victim suffer cardiac arrest in the ambulance, when they could receive the best possible care. The paramedics said having such a top-notch treatment facility so close at Valley View is vital to saving lives.

McGuire is grateful for every stage of her care. “It was a great experience, if you could call it that,” she said. She is now back at work as office manager at Chaffin Light.

McGuire said she smoked a half pack of cigarettes per day for 35 years until her heart attack. She’s gone cold turkey. She’s also reduced her drinking and resolved to get more exercise. She said her diet was fair before the incident but she’s improving it, in part with the American Heart Association cookbook.

Her advice to other women is to beware of heartburn or indigestion. It could mask a bigger problem. Heart ailments can also manifest as cold- or flu-like symptoms.

The biggest tip is to “know what’s going on with your body,” she said. “Looking back at it, I wasn’t right for a year. I would tell friends, ‘I just don’t feel right. I’m in a funk.'”

Anyone with any of those symptoms should have them checked out by a doctor. And most importantly, if you feel like you are having a heart attack, don’t be shy about calling for an ambulance.

“Do not hesitate to call. That’s what they’re there for,” McGuire said.

scondon@aspentimes.com


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