Shock and Awe

An elderly patient in cardiac arrest was shocked back to life — up to 20 times — by a tenacious cardiologist and his equally steadfast team, who simply refused to give up.

Doctor: Mitchell Fishbach, MD, FACC, Director of Non-Invasive Cardiology Lab Services, NewYork-Presbyterian/Lawrence Hospital

Patient: Maureen Furey, 78, Bronx 

Condition: Massive Heart Attack 

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THE PRESENTATION

Mitchell Fishbach, MD, FACC, Director of Non-Invasive Cardiology Lab Services at NewYork-Presbyterian/Lawrence Hospital, happened to be on call at the ER when Maureen Furey came in last December because of persistent chest pain. The 78-year-old Bronx native says she wasn’t particularly concerned — after all, her pain wasn’t any worse than a bad case of heartburn. Plus, she’d been to her doctor the previous week and had received a clean bill of health. But Dr. Fishbach took one look at Furey’s EKG and knew his patient was in serious trouble. “I heard Dr. Fishbach say I was having a massive heart attack,” Furey recalls, “and before I knew it, he was rushing me to the cath lab, where they gave me something to put me out, and that’s all I remember.” Approximately 24 hours later, she regained consciousness and learned that, through Dr. Fishbach and the entire cardiac team’s quick response and refusal to quit, she had literally cheated death.

 

THE JOURNEY

“Maureen’s EKG revealed a critical blockage of blood flow to the heart called a STEMI,” explains Dr. Fishbach. “When we looked at the anatomy of her heart, we saw that her right coronary artery was 100 percent blocked, making this a very complicated case.” Upstairs in the hospital’s cath lab, Dr. Fishbach was joined by interventional cardiologist Torsten Vahl, MD, and the hospital’s cath team, who would work to clear the clot. But things took a turn for the worse when the cath team attempted to clear the blockage. Furey’s heart stopped and was shocked back to life between 15 and 20 times over the course of 20 minutes as they tried to clear her artery by passing a wire through the clot.

Calling this one of the most challenging, exceptional cases he’s ever been part of, Dr. Fishbach recalls the scary moments. “Her heart would be shocked back into normal rhythm and then arrest all over again — over and over, for 20 minutes.” But he says, it wasn’t the procedures that were performed or even the anatomy of Furey’s heart that made this case exceptional. What was unique, and what ultimately saved Furey’s life, was this team of doctors and their flat-out refusal to quit. “Where others might have, we never gave up,” Dr. Fishbach explains. Eventually the artery was opened, two stents were placed inside, and Furey was transferred to the ICU, where Dr. Fishbach began to stabilize her.

 

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THE OUTCOME

Months after her ordeal, Furey says she doesn’t feel the need to baby her heart. She feels great and incredibly grateful. “I told Dr. Fishbach: ‘I’m not even supposed to be here. You gave me my second chance in life!’” she says. Of what may be his most challenging and rewarding case, Dr. Fishbach concludes: “With the prolonged period of cardiac arrest, after all of the shocks, we didn’t know what we would find when Maureen woke up. But through the work of the cardiac team, there was no neurological or cardiac deficit. It was against all odds — miraculous!”

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