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A Hero Saved

They do the work most would dread: arrest the violent, question drug dealers, arrive first on crash scenes, provide CPR to those near death.

Every day police officers put their lives on the line for others. But on Jan. 30, officer Randy Schmidt from Valley City, N.D., came full circle.

On thin ice

The shoulder pain started during the “Cops and Kids” hockey game in Moorhead, Minn. “I was absolutely sure it was a pulled muscle, nothing more,” says Randy.

The 47-year-old kept playing, but noticed the pain moved through his chest, stopping at his bicep. “I thought that was a little strange,” he says. “I kept telling myself I’d work it off.”

The game ended -- the Kids won. Randy went out for a bite to eat with the Cops. “I even joked that maybe I was having a heart attack and we laughed about getting old,” he says.

He felt lousy enough to leave early, driving to the Moorhead home where he was staying. He couldn’t get comfortable.

He phoned his 21-year-old daughter and mentioned the pain. She urged him to get it checked. He phoned his girlfriend and she said the same.

“They were both bugging me and I kept saying no. I’ll sleep on it, the pain will go away, everything will be better in the morning,” he recalls, shaking his head.

The pain intensified. By 9:30 that night, he drove himself to Sanford Emergency Center in Fargo.

“Looking back, I can’t believe I did that,” he says. “How many times do we tell people don’t drive yourself to the hospital if you’re having a heart attack. Call for help. But I was so certain it wasn’t a heart attack. First, I thought I was too young and second, I exercise and stay pretty fit.”

Fast action in the ER

The first EKG didn’t show a heart attack, but Randy’s pain persisted.

“The nurse was about to give me medication when I broke out in an unbelievable sweat.I drenched my clothes,” he says. “That’s the moment I had a massive heart attack. The ER doc said it’s going to get busy in here and he wasn’t kidding.”

Tests showed an ST-Elevation Myocardial Infarction (STEMI)-- a particularly deadly type of heart attack caused by completely blocked arteries. The ER team activated “One Call,” a well-developed system that rapidly brings together the heart team needed to save a life -- and heart muscle. Blood flow restored to the heart in 90 minutes or less decreases the chance of permanent heart damage.

“Within a half-hour my artery was open, the stent was in,” says Randy. “Dr. Haldis was excellent. He kept telling me what was happening and it calmed me.” The procedure took place in the cardiac cath lab at Sanford Heart Center.

Sanford interventional cardiologist Dr. Thomas Haldis used an advanced angioplasty approach involving a wrist artery as the access point rather than a leg artery. More technically challenging, the approach has proven superior in reducing complications of the procedure.

On track to recovery

Top-notch care continued in the cardiac care unit. Two days later Randy went home. He returned to Sanford for outpatient cardiac rehab -- and excelled. At his request, his rehab team developed a workout plan to prepare him for running the half-marathon in the Fargo Marathon.

Six weeks after his heart attack? A follow-up appointment with Dr. Haldis. “He remembered everything -- hockey player, police officer, 47-year-old in pretty good shape who had a heart attack,” says Randy. “We talked about why it happened and it came down to two reasons: family history and high cholesterol. I was diagnosed with high cholesterol three years ago, but thought I was too young to be on medication. I chose not to do it -- not a good decision.”

He also recalled warning signs months earlier, but they were vague: shortness of breath during weightlifting and unexplained jaw pain.

Saving lives

Seven years on the police force, Randy returned in March. “It’s something new every day,” he says. “That’s what makes the job exciting.”

And police officers as heroes? He downplays it -- “just part of the job,” he says.

He’s more eager to talk about the heroics of others. “I told my daughter and girlfriend they saved my life,” he says. “Without them and the doctors, I wouldn’t be here today.”

Be a hero!

“My one message is ‘listen to your body,’” says Randy. “Mine was trying to tell me something, but I ignored it. I thought I’d tough it out -- it would’ve killed me.”

Whether in yourself or others:

  • Recognize heart attack symptoms
  • Know heart disease risk factors
  • Don’t delay getting help

Be a hero and save a life -- your own!

Posted Date: May 2011