As Chris Denick watched his tee shot fade to the right on the 13th tee at Yarrow Golf Course in Augusta, he started to feel dizzy. Chris, a 47-year-old Richland resident, has no memory of what followed over the next several days. He does know, however, that if there are 10 steps toward death, he was very close to 10.
“They told me that I bent over and put my hands on my knees,” Chris said of that fateful Saturday, April 10, 2010. “Then I shot up and fell over backwards.”
One member of his foursome, Mark Leineke, had taken a CPR class although he had never used the technique in an emergency. Still, he started the process while Keith Gregory helped and John Ward called 9-1-1. Bob Dewaelsche came from another group of golfers to help Mark.
Emergency Medical Technician, Stuart Myers, heard the emergency call and drove to the clubhouse, grabbed a portable AED and drove to the 13th hole. An AED (automated external defibrillator) automatically diagnoses potentially life-threatening erratic heartbeats and delivers a shock to return a more normal rhythm. Myers was the first one to get a heartbeat for a few minutes. Yet when an ambulance arrived, Chris had no heartbeat and was not breathing.
Rushed to Battle Creek Health Systems, Chris was immediately transferred to Borgess Medical Center in Kalamazoo. It was suspected, but not confirmed, that he’d had a heart attack.
Chris’ wife, Laura, had been called and had driven to Battle Creek and then to Borgess. She was told that her husband’s condition had stabilized, although in reality he was in very critical condition.
“I went a long time without breathing,” Chris said.
A Critical Time for Critical Care
Chris arrived at Borgess in what is called a Level 4 coma and doctors worked to determine the cause of
his condition. A CT scan showed that his body was near death and family members were called to gather. Laura and their children, Craig, 20, and Sarah, 18, kept a bedside vigil for two nights.
Dr. Janos R. Gellert, a cardiologist at Borgess Heart Center for Excellence, used a medical device to cool Chris’ body temperature to reduce the risk of brain damage. “The brain is sensitive to a lack of oxygen and we cool the body to preserve brain function,” Dr. Gellert said. “Cooling slows the body’s metabolic rate and reduces the brain’s need for oxygen,” he said. “Chris came out of the coma with some deficits initially, but he improved remarkably.”
Dr. Gellert added that Chris “was extremely lucky” that an AED was available and used fairly soon after the heart attack.
“The doctors, nurses and technicians worked around the clock,” Chris said. “They didn’t expect me to recover. But they didn’t give up. God bless them, they didn’t give up.”
On the following Monday afternoon, Laura and a respiratory therapist were by Chris’ bed when the therapist wiped his mouth. Chris appeared to flinch. “She yelled, ’Chris, can you hear me?’” Chris said. “Laura held my hand and she thought she felt me squeeze her fingers. I started to move a little bit.”
As he slowly emerged from the coma, Chris became agitated, a common reaction. “The doctor told Laura and the kids the go home, take a shower and have something to eat,” he said. “They warned them that although I was coming out of the coma, I probably would not be the same because of the long period without oxygen getting to my brain. They had to wait to see how it all unfolded.”
When Laura was just getting home, however, the phone rang and she was told that Chris was sitting up and asking for her. The feeling among family, friends and the Borgess staff was one of joy.
When Chris’ brother Terry asked if he was comfortable, he replied using a Jack Lemmon expression: “I make a living.” At that point, Laura knew her husband and his wonderful sense of humor were back.
Once he was feeling better, Chris underwent a procedure that revealed the cause of his problems: a major heart artery, commonly known as the Widow Maker, was blocked and two other heart arteries were mostly blocked.
Dr. (Michael) Khaghany performed the surgery. “The surgery went great and my heart seems to be working great,” Chris said. “Dr. (Ken X.) Liu did put in an automatic defibrillator, but I haven’t needed it.”
“I can’t say enough good things about the staff at Borgess,” he said. “So many people there saved my life. My support was fantastic—my family, my friends, St. Ann’s parish, God and the people at Borgess.”
Care and Support for Recovery
After his surgery, Chris enrolled in the 12-week cardiac rehabilitation program at the Borgess Health and Fitness Center. A major heart attack and near-death coma, of course, was a traumatic experience both physically and emotionally. “I was scared and worried about what I would be able to do,” he said. “But the staff was great and my progress was amazing. Every day was good… every day is good.”
Vickie Asaro, manager of Borgess Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation, said that Chris came to them with many of the same fears that are common to those who’ve experienced a heart attack.
“I could see his drive to recover and yet his fears at the same time,” she said. “He wanted to do well but he didn’t know how much he could do without hurting his heart. But that’s what we do in cardiac rehab—we give patients the confidence and the ability. We tell them that they can do this.”
Over the weeks, Chris slowly increased the distance he walked. By August he had returned to work part-time, and
by September, full time at Parker Hannifin Corp. in Richland where he is a Business Unit Manager. Chris began walking and jogging to the Richland post office, a two-mile round trip journey. Over time he would run more and more until he was running the whole way.
“I was feeling better and I very carefully monitored my heart rate,” he said. “When I was finishing the rehab program, I got to thinking about the Borgess Run for the Health of It! It was about that time that I decided to do the Borgess half marathon the next April.”
Over that winter Chris took on a whole new life-style that included exercise and a low-fat diet. In January he enrolled in the popular Borgess Run Camp, a program designed to get people in shape for the Borgess series of runs in April.
“I feel so blessed to get a second chance,” he said. “I don’t want to be a role model for myself but for my family, friends and others. I know there are things I can’t control, but there are a lot of things in life that I can,” said Chris. “I can’t remember when I felt this good. I can attest to the benefits of diet and exercise.”
“When I was finishing the half marathon and I heard all that cheering and Chris (Lampen-Crowell, the race announcer) called my name, I welled up. Craig and Sarah were cheering me on and when I saw Laura near the finish line I ran over to her before crossing the finish line. And when they put the medal on me, it confirmed my new life-style there and then. I’m still myself yet I am different, better in many ways.”
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