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A Hunter’s Tale



Two deer dart into a swamp. “I’ll go in and find ’em,” Steve Eickhoff tells his hunting buddies. It’s the morning of Nov. 6, 2010 - the season opener.

Steve runs ahead, slogging through heavy brush and water. He sweats more than usual and opens his jacket.

A sharp pain rips through his left chest. A bullet? He’d heard shots in the distance. He unzips his sweatshirt and feels for blood. Nothing. Indigestion? No stranger to a 51-year-old.

He eyes the pickup 150 yards away and decides to head back. He has to stop three times to rest - that never happens. At the truck he slugs down a bottle of Mountain Dew, hoping he’ll feel better so he can get back to hunting.

“Something’s wrong,” he tells his longtime friend Keith Miller. “I hate to ruin hunting, but maybe we should head for home.”

From south of Twin Valley, Minn., Keith heads west to Fargo. He notices Steve’s tight grip on the seatbelt, hears his labored breathing and realizes 52 miles is too far. They try the clinic in Twin Valley, but it’s closed on Saturday. Keith speeds to the nearest hospital - 14 miles away in Ada.

“Let’s just say we found out where a GMC Sierra governs out,” says Steve.

Keith pulls into the ER, blows the horn once and a nurse runs out. She and the hunters hoist Steve out of the truck and into a wheelchair.

Lying on the exam table, he looks up and sees a team of people. Each person knows exactly what to do - the tests, the medications, the phone call to a cardiologist at Sanford Heart Center, the steps needed in the 20 minutes before the Sanford LifeFlight helicopter arrives.

Every link matters in the chain of survival

Steve doesn’t realize it, but the hospital in Ada is one of several throughout the region that work closely with Sanford Heart Center’s STEMI Heart Code Program to improve heart attack care - specifically heart attacks caused by completely blocked arteries. Optimal treatment calls for an open artery and restored blood flow within 90 minutes of first medical contact.

Regional hospitals play a critical role, along with other factors: awareness of symptoms, early presentation for care, actions by first responders, well-trained ambulance crews (ground and air), well-prepared emergency departments and expert heart teams that ultimately resolve the problem.

This past year Sanford in Fargo received the American Heart Association’s national Bronze Performance Achievement Award - the highest honor possible in the first year of recognition. It’s part of “Mission: Lifeline,” an AHA program to improve heart attack survival through rapid treatment. Keys to success: well-developed systems of care, consistent coordination and regional education.

All within 80 minutes…

Between Ada and Fargo, Steve received top-notch care on board Sanford LifeFlight. When he arrived at Sanford Heart Center, a heart team was ready and waiting.

Tests in the cardiac cath lab revealed complete blockages in two coronary arteries. Sanford interventional cardiologist Dr. Thomas Haldis and his team opened the arteries, removed clots, and inserted stents, restoring blood flow. All of this happened within 80 minutes of Steve presenting to the ED in Ada with a heart attack.

“It was impressive,” says Steve. “Every person down the line knew exactly what to do, and they were friendly about it, too.”

Steve spent three days in the cardiac care unit, grateful to be alive. One of his visitors was Keith. “Without his quick thinking I probably wouldn’t be here today, but he’s very modest and wouldn’t take any credit,” says Steve, his voice trembling. “He just kept saying you’d have done the same for me.”

Aiming for success

Self-care is the final link in the chain of survival and Steve takes it seriously. He’s lost weight, improved his diet, takes daily heart medication and exercises daily, including participation in Sanford’s Cardiac Rehab Program. He’ll get more exercise when he returns to his job as a building inspector for the City of Moorhead.

“My wife and two daughters really keep me in line on this heart-health stuff,” he says. “I have every reason to do this right. I’m giving it my best shot.”

His best shot? As any hunter would.

Posted Date: January 2011

A Hunter’s Tale

“I Walk on Water” says his ice-fishing sweatshirt. But Steve Eickhoff would be the first to say several people walked on water the day he suffered a heart attack while hunting