On Dec. 12, 2005, Kurkowski suffered a heart attack and was brought to MeritCare. On Dec. 13, he had a cardiac stent placed to open one of his arteries. The next step was to do surgery to put an implantable cardiac defibrillator (ICD) in his chest to ensure that he didn't go into cardiac arrest in the future, but doctors couldn't perform the procedure because Kurkowski had an infection.
The choices were to either keep him in the hospital over the holidays to monitor him until the infection went away, or to outfit him with a LifeVest. On Dec. 22, Kurkowski became the first MeritCare patient to be fitted with a LifeVest. The vest is an intermediate treatment option for those at high risk for sudden cardiac arrest. It does the same thing as an ICD, which is to monitor the heart and shock the heart back into it's normal rhythm, if necessary.
Later on Dec. 22, Kurkowski and his wife, Rita, returned to their home in South Dakota and were able to spend Christmas with their two children, ages 6 and 9. As Kurkowski said, "I thought it was neat to be the first patient. I knew that if I didn't get home for Christmas, the kids would understand, but we were amazed at what they [the staff] could do and come up with."
The Kurkowskis returned to MeritCare and Steve had an ICD placed on Jan. 19, 2006. He is now at home recuperating and expects to return to his job as a conservation technician with the Pickerel Lake State Park near Waubay soon.
Information from the American Heart Association's Web site:
- Cardiac arrest –Cardiac arrest is the sudden, abrupt loss of heart function. During cardiac arrest a victim loses consciousness, stops normal breathing and loses pulse and blood pressure. Sudden death occurs within minutes after symptoms appear.
- Heart attack – A heart attack occurs when the blood supply to part of the heart muscle itself – the myocardium – is severely reduced or stopped. The reduction or stoppage happens when one or more of the coronary arteries supplying blood to the heart muscle is blocked. This is usually caused by the buildup of plaque (deposits of fat-like substances), a process called atherosclerosis. The plaque can eventually burst, tear or rupture, creating a "snag" where a blood clot forms and blocks the artery. This leads to a heart attack.