A High Risk

There are still several more weeks left of winter. Some snow has fallen already and to be sure, more is yet to come. And while many Bismarck residents spend most of this season with a shovel attached to their arms scraping driveways and clearing sidewalks of snow, one North Dakota man has put away his shovel for good.

It was almost a year ago that 37-year-old Brian Carlson suffered a massive heart attack. Wanting to get out and ride his snowmobile in the newly fallen April snow, Brian began shoveling off the wet, heavy precipitation from his driveway.

“I came into the house and my arm just really hurt,” remembers Brian. “My girlfriend was home and gave me some medicine, but I started getting sick. I really don’t remember much after that.”

Brian’s girlfriend Ryan Leary had left the room to get a trashcan. When she returned to the living room, she was met with a ghastly sight.

“She said I was already grey and was stiff as a board,” says Brian.

Ryan quickly called 911 and started CPR on Brian. It was this immediate response that gave Brian a fighting chance.

Quick response

Despite the snow, emergency medical services arrived at Brian’s house within five minutes. The crews had to finish Brian’s shoveling job before being able to get him out of the house on a stretcher. Even with the quick response, Brian was still not out of the woods.

“They had to shock my heart three times while I was in the ambulance,” recalls Brian. “Then they had to do it twice more when I got to the hospital.”

Arriving just 20 minutes after the call was placed, Brian entered Sanford Health Bismarck with the STEMI heart team ready and waiting for him. At this point Brian’s heart wasn’t beating and his blood pressure was very low.

“He was in cardiogenic shock,” recalls Karthik Reddy, MD, cardiologist at Sanford Bismarck. “We had to shock his heart several times. His condition was very severe and life threatening.”

Dr. Reddy and the heart team at Sanford Health Bismarck put Brian in a therapeutic hypothermic coma. This relaxed and oxygenated his body. Brian stayed in this medically induced coma for over 24 hours.

“They tell me I started opening my eyes,” says Brian. “But I really don’t remember any of that.”

The heart’s history

This wasn’t Brian’s first run-in with heart problems. Over five years ago, Brian suffered his first heart attack while driving to work in Mandan.

“My family has a history of heart problems,” says Brian. “I’m the youngest and so far I am the only one to have a heart attack, but I knew all the symptoms.”

After waiting by the side of the road for 15 minutes, Brian took himself to the hospital where doctors discovered that his arteries were partially blocked.

However this time around, Brian’s main artery was 100 percent blocked. Doctors placed stints in the heart to allow blood to flow once more. It took the whole heart team working together to save Brian’s life.

“There is a lot of teamwork here,” says Dr. Reddy. “We have to all coordinate with one another, do what is necessary and do it very quickly in order to save lives.”

After his bypass, Brian entered cardiac rehab where he began his recovery process.

“I did a lot of simple things,” says Brian. “I started walking on the treadmill and doing just a few light exercises.”

Knowing your limits

With two heart attacks before his 37th birthday, Brian knows how lucky he is to be alive.

“If I had been at the house alone or if it weren’t for the rapid response of the heart team at Sanford, I know I wouldn’t be here,” remarks Brian.

Brian now keeps a close eye on his diet and finds the time to exercise to strengthen his heart. But one thing he won’t be doing is picking up the shovel anytime soon.

“I know my limits,” says Brian. “I let someone else shovel my driveway from now on.”

But for those who are still clearing out their walks after a snowfall, Dr. Reddy has some advice for you. He recommends doing it in small batches while taking frequent breaks and stopping immediately if you begin to feel ill.

If you would like to meet with a member of the Sanford Bismarck heart team, please talk to your primary care physician. They will be able to refer you to a Sanford cardiologist or cardiology advanced practice provider. Call (701) 323-5202 or visit bismarck.sanfordhealth.org to learn more about Sanford Heart.

Posted Date: February 2014

A High Risk

How knowing the signs and his own history saved one man’s life