It was a typical summer afternoon for Mark Hagbom and Sally Mahoney.
The newlyweds were gearing up to celebrate their one-year wedding anniversary along with their three teenaged and grown children from previous marriages. They had purchased a new home in Grand Rapids Township, Michigan, over the winter and Sally worked inside while Mark toiled outside in the garden.
Mark, 57, spent most of the morning digging up dozens of hostas the previous owners had planted throughout the yard.
“I like hostas to an extent,” Mark said. “But not that many.”
At about 2:30, Sally realized the couple had skipped lunch. She went outside to admire Mark’s gardening handiwork and to see if he was hungry. She had only been with him a moment when he suddenly collapsed.
“He fell against the house,” Sally said. “His glasses flew off and his head was slumped up against the side of the house.”
Sally, a Calvin College network and reunion coordinator trained in CPR, felt no pulse.
“I thought I’d lost him,” she said. “He looked beyond help.”
‘Buying time’ with CPR
The couple’s neighbor, CJ Michaud, a Spectrum Health clinical pharmacist, unloaded the family’s car in the driveway while his wife ran errands and his 10-month-old daughter slept inside the house.
“I heard screaming—something frantic coming through the trees,” Michaud said. “My first thought was that it was kids playing, screaming like they’d been hit with a water balloon or something.”
But when the screaming continued, he hurried toward the sound, cutting through several adjacent yards accompanied by the family dog.
“I saw Mark lying there and Sally doing chest compressions, yelling, ‘Somebody please call 911,’” Michaud recalled.
Michaud took over chest compressions from Sally, and she raced inside to call an ambulance. Michaud has advanced training in cardiothoracic critical care, and spends part of every work week dispensing emergency medications to “Code Blue” patients. With no detectable pulse or respiration, he needed only a moment to realize that Mark was in cardiac arrest.
“The only thing that was going to bring him back was an AED,” he said. “We were buying him time with CPR.”
An AED (automated external defibrillator) provides an electrical shock to restart the heart. Michaud kept up chest compressions for 15 minutes until an ambulance arrived with one.
‘Saved his life’
After applying the defibrillator to Mark’s chest, emergency medical technicians were able to get a pulse, administer fluids and clear an airway for Mark to breathe.
“We stabilized him,” Michaud said. “The rest of the hospital course were the things that saved his life.”
At Spectrum Health Butterworth Hospital, tests revealed a blockage in Mark’s left anterior descending artery, as well as in three other arteries, which had caused the most severe and deadly type of heart attack, a STEMI.
In a sad irony for the newlywed Mark, his type of heart attack is sometimes referred to as the “widow-maker.” If blood and oxygen are cut off for too long, the muscle cells of the heart die, making rapid treatment an absolute necessity.
“It was a stroke of luck that Sally witnessed his fall,” Michaud said. “To go even 10 to 20 minutes with no chest compressions is rarely survivable, especially with any type of favorable neurologic recovery. Even with CPR, though, survival rates drop for every minute spent waiting for defibrillation.”
“We see that often if there is no bystander intervention, even if an ambulance gets there in five minutes, people sometimes don’t survive,” he said. “Luckily, I was able to be over there giving him compressions within two minutes of hearing Sally.”
From the emergency room, Mark was rushed to the Spectrum Health Fred and Lena Meijer Heart Center catheterization lab, where the first goal in treating a heart attack is to remove the blood clot and restore blood flow. Doctors use several advanced methods to do this, including clot-busting medicines, coronary angioplasty (in which a balloon inflates blood vessels to restore blood flow), and stents (small mesh tubes placed in the artery to keep it from narrowing or closing).
“He had four out of four blocked arteries,” said interventional cardiologist H. Paul Singh, MD, who treated Mark in the cath lab. “Because of the multiple blockages he was considered a candidate not for angioplasty but for bypass surgery.
“His heart pump was working at only 25 percent—normal is about 60 percent,” Dr. Singh added. “We put a balloon pump in the aorta to temporarily assist his heart and sent him to surgery.”
Two hours after Mark’s arrival at the hospital, cardiothoracic surgeons, led by Justin Fanning, MD, began a six-hour quadruple bypass operation.
‘You are a miracle’
Sally vividly recalls that fateful day and the days that followed, although Mark had no initial memory of the events that landed him in the Meijer Heart Center for the eight days that changed his life.
“I started screaming like it was nobody’s business as I was doing chest compressions,” Sally recalled. “All of a sudden (Michaud) came running saying, ‘Go, go call 911. I’ll do CPR.’”
Throughout the ambulance ride to the hospital and while Mark was wheeled inside, Sally urged him to fight, yelling, “Come on, Sparty. You can make it! You’ve got this!”
During Mark’s surgery, Sally said that “I prayed continually. I just worried that he’d have brain damage.”
She was counseled that the road ahead for Mark would be a challenging one, and that he might not awaken for up to four days following surgery. Instead, he woke up after four hours—thankfully with no brain damage—although astonished to find himself in the hospital. He had no recollection of events after falling in the garden.
“Apparently I collapsed in mid-sentence,” Mark said. “Sally said I was a really gray color. …She was beside herself.”
Mark—who earned the nickname ‘Sparty’ for his deep loyalty to all things Michigan State University—spent most of the rest of the summer in cardiac rehabilitation, before returning to his job in sales and marketing.
Mark praised the care he received during his ordeal and throughout his recovery.
“They kept saying, ‘You are a miracle,'” he said. “You never can tell what type of impact you may make on another’s life by your actions or lack of action. My message is everyone should consider learning how to do CPR for their loved ones.”
He is especially grateful to Sally and to Michaud, both of whom have been hailed as heroes.
“His time is not finished on this earth,” Michaud said. “A lot of things worked out for him.”
He modestly defers praise to the medical staff who handled Mark’s case from start to finish.
“I continue to reiterate that I don’t deserve praise,” Michaud said. “Mark’s course … from ambulance to cath lab to OR is what allowed him to make such a great recovery.”
That recovery made the celebration of the couple’s first anniversary all the more meaningful.
“We’re grateful that we’re still able to dream of our future—together,” Sally said. “I don’t know what I would do without my Spartanator.”