Gregg B.'s heart-stopping survival story is anything but typical

SHWV emergency lobby

Gregg B. lived with heart problems for nearly 20 years. His first heart attack happened at age 40, his second at 50 and two more recently, at 59, after a stroke.

Each time, he was taken to the emergency department at West Valley Hospital.

“They even brought him back to life once from full cardiac arrest,” said Gregg’s wife, Janet.

The situation

Gregg had experienced atrial fibrillation, an irregular heartbeat, before he had his stroke. People can live with A-fib for years without any other problems, but it increases the likelihood of having a stroke.

Cardiac ablation can help prevent future strokes caused by irregular heart rhythms. Electrode tips attached to catheters are inserted into blood vessels to reach a patient’s heart and destroy abnormal heart tissue.

Salem Heart Center’s Matthew Fedor, MD, performed cardiac ablation on Gregg. It successfully stopped the A-fib episodes.

The heart attack

While recovering from the ablation at Salem Hospital, Gregg awoke with a stomachache.

“It felt like something was inflating a football in my diaphragm. We thought it was a symptom of the stroke, when it was actually heart failure,” said Gregg. “I told my wife I didn’t feel good and thought I was having a heart attack.”

Janet immediately called for help. Gregg was hooked up to an electrocardiogram and moved from observation to the cardiac intensive care unit. Then he was taken to the catheterization lab to see if there was blockage in his arteries.

“That was where my heart stopped. I coded several times,” Gregg said.

Kamran Ghalili, MD, and his team gave CPR to Gregg for 45 minutes.

“They didn’t think I would make it, but they didn’t give up,” Gregg said. “Without Dr. Ghalili and the rapid response in the cath lab, I wouldn’t be here today.”

Dr. Ghalili cautioned the family about the seriousness of Gregg’s condition. Gregg was on a balloon pump and respirator to keep him alive. Gregg survived through the weekend.

On Monday, Gregg’s regular cardiologist, James Lowry, MD, said he needed to be weaned from the pump and ventilator, but wasn’t sure if Gregg was strong enough. He was, but he was weak. Gregg’s doctors couldn’t safely do further tests.

The triple bypass

Thomas Winkler, MD, needed to do an angiogram to confirm there was blockage to determine if Gregg was a candidate for open heart surgery.

Gregg explained, “The angiogram went well. The following Monday, nine days after my heart attack, Dr. Winkler performed my triple bypass.

“I was in the hospital for 15 days from beginning to end. As it turns out, I was a ticking time bomb. My physicians said any bit of stress, even a twisted ankle, could have triggered the heart attack.”

The happy ending

“I not only had top rate care, but they were so good to my family,” Gregg said. “My family coined the event ‘Occupy Salem Hospital’ because they lived at the hospital for over two weeks. The staff was so accommodating to all of us. My three kids slept on fold out beds and recliners in the waiting room that the staff brought for them.”

Janet agreed, “Give me Salem Health any day. I will never forget how wonderful and warm the staff was in taking care of our entire family.”

Come to find out, one of Gregg’s nurses had been a family babysitter in years past.

“That is why I am a nurse — to see people that far along survive,” she said through tears when she found out Gregg had survived.

The rehabilitation

“They were really patient with me in rehab,” Gregg said. “I couldn’t do anything with my chest at first, so they put together a good program to keep my legs in shape and slowly integrate my arms. At 6’3” and 270 pounds, I had to use a walker at first and could barely get around.” 

As Gregg completed cardiac rehabilitation, he became stronger and could eventually walk the 30 minutes on the treadmill – and work in his shop, a hobby he is grateful to be alive to enjoy.

Since then, Gregg had a defibrillator implanted to regulate his heart and continues his pursuit of recovery.

“Gregg embraces each day of his life due to the wonderful care both at West Valley Hospital and Salem Hospital,” said Janet.

Subscribe to the You Matter Blog

* indicates required