I It’s not that difficult to find a list of the warning signs of a heart attack.
But in a pinch, the best thing is to live next door to a doctor who specializes in emergency medicine.
Ask Greg and Natasha Shubin, of Nevada City. Their neighbor, Dr. Danner Hodgson, saved Shubin’s life one evening last February.
“Dr. Hodgson is the real hero of this story,” Natasha Shubin said.
And it’s quite a story.
Her husband remembers almost nothing. His heart had actually stopped.
“One second you have everything, and the next second your world has crashed,” his wife recalled. “There is suddenly a vacuum, and life stops. That’s how it seemed.”
It had been a quiet Thursday, she said. The Shubins were going to have dinner, watch an early movie, and climb into bed. He took a shower. She had a bad feeling as he exited the bathroom and walked toward his computer room, where he routinely went to sit in a recliner chair and relax.
“He walked past like a zombie,” she said.
She heard strange noises coming from his room.
“It was like he was snoring, but different,” she said. “I went in to check and found him in his chair. His head was leaning to the right. He was making weird noises, like he was trying to breathe. I nudged him, I slapped him, I hit him and then I screamed.”
The Shubins knew Dr. Hodgson and his wife only slightly. They had met, and they often saw him working on his property, clearing growth, and mending fences. They knew he worked in the emergency room at Dignity Health Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital.
In her terror, Natasha Shubin spread open their old-fashioned phone book, somehow found Hodgson’s number, and called. He answered.
“Greg can’t wake up! He’s not breathing!” she shouted. “Please help him!”
The doctor responded immediately.
“Call 9-1-1. Call 9-1-1. Call 9-1-1,” he repeated.
Dr. Hodgson was dressed in his scrubs, about to report for his night shift at the ER. When the phone rang, he was reading bedtime stories to his three children.
But by the time she was talking with the emergency dispatcher, Dr. Hodgson had burst into their home, finding Shubin slumped in his chair.
“Greg was cyanotic (blue),” he said. “I noted no airway obstruction. But he wasn’t breathing. There was no pulse. I moved him to the floor as quickly as I could and began compressions immediately.”
He continued the CPR strenuously until the ambulance and fire department crews arrived.
“I had them take over compressions, then intubated the patient (passed a breathing tube into his lungs), shocked him and began giving him adrenaline and anti-arrhythmic medications that could only be administered via a special IV through the leg bone,” Dr. Hodgson recounted. The actions resulted in what he called “return of spontaneous circulation – rare for a full field arrest with significant downtime.”
In other words, Shubin had begun to breathe.
Dr. Hodgson gave praise to the SNMH Ambulance Service crew.
“We used our field EKG capacity with the ambulance,” he said. “They save a lot of lives with that stat field EKG machine.”
The patient breathing again, Dr. Hodgson mobilized a medical helicopter and drove alongside the ambulance to the Sierra College helipad, where Shubin was flown to a specially equipped trauma center in Roseville.
Then Dr. Hodgson went to work.
“I can’t stress enough what a godsend he was,” Shubin’s wife said. “I have to say that Dr. Hodgson conducted the whole operation and was simply amazing. He didn’t waste a split second.”
Shubin recalled almost nothing of the event — not even taking a shower. He awoke three days later in an ICU.
“I vaguely recall lights from some instruments, and someone saying, ‘Let’s try 360,’” he said. He presumes that referred to the defibrillator.
He stayed in the ICU eight days, followed by a week in a regular hospital room.
Then he was home. But his wife was very nervous about that.
“The ICU had told me there might be brain damage, that he might be vegetative,” she said. “He was medically dead for at least 20 minutes. But look how he came back! He has memory, function, and he’s fit. I think it is just a miracle.”
Shubin credits his post-event recovery to the Cardiac Rehabilitation Program at SNMH. He has completed nine weeks of monitored exercise training and has three more to go. He said he would soon begin the program’s series of classes on heart disease, nutrition, and other related topics.
“It’s an excellent program,” he said. “When I got out of the hospital after my heart attack, my heart was pumping at 25 percent capacity. Now it’s over 50 percent. I’m pretty sure cardiac rehab has a lot to do with that.”
In fact, he said, “I feel better now than I did before the heart attack.”
Shubin admits that he was having some symptoms for several months that, in hindsight, seem like obvious signs of an impending heart event. “I was overweight, with high blood pressure,” he explained. “I’d been short of breath for several months, and feeling some pain. I checked my computer after and found I’d been Googling information about hiatal hernia. And a previous doctor had told me I was at risk.”
His advice for others is to know those risk factors and symptoms, and to take advantage of screening events and CPR classes.
Shubin’s wife said they’d had no idea of the resources provided to the community by the hospital.
“Cardiac rehab is so amazing,” she said. “We’ve been here for 11 years and had no idea we have such a fantastic hospital in this small community – their services, their outreach, free screenings and other programs. It’s such a gift.”
All physicians providing care for patients at SNMH are members of the medical staff and are independent practitioners, not employees of the hospital.