EMTs, ED staff shock Ohio man's heart 34 times
Dr. Gregory Stefano credited the Hiram EMS crew for playing a large role in saving the life of Frank Briggs
By Bob Gaetjens Record-Courier GateHouse Media Ohio
The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio
HIRAM, Ohio — Shortly after Frank Briggs of Hiram woke up the morning of June 4, he knew something was wrong.
"The pain was bad; it was like heartburn," he said. "It was hard to sit up and hard to stand up."
A little later, with adrenaline coursing through them, 15 emergency department staff members at University Hospitals Geauga Medical Center were fighting to keep him alive, delivering numerous shocks to Briggs' body to recalibrate his heart, which was in ventricular fibrillation, a rhythmic abnormality that is fatal without speedy treatment, according to Dr. Tina Piscitelli, the physician on duty that morning at the emergency department.
Briggs was shocked once en route to the hospital by the Hiram EMS crew that transported the 63-year-old from his home and 33 more times before his heart rhythm stabilized.
After his wife said good-bye to him at the hospital, Piscitelli said Briggs immediately went into cardiac arrest.
One of the hospital paramedics hopped on to Briggs' gurney, straddling him and delivered CPR compressions as he was wheeled back to the cath lab where Dr. Gregory Stefano performed life-saving surgery, inserting a stent in a blocked artery, opening up blood flow to the heart.
"This part was kind of TV show-ish," said Piscitelli. "We definitely made a statement that morning."
Geoffrey Patty, chest pain coordinator with the Harrington Heart and Vascular Center at University Hospitals Geauga Medical Center, called the case "amazing."
"This was a real save, a phenomenal effort from the EMS, the emergency department and the Geauga Harrington Heart and Vascular team," he said. "I've been doing this a long, long time, and I cannot remember a person who was shocked 30 times and walked out. It's statistically improbable that someone who came in presenting with those symptoms would leave the hospital without any brain injury or even alive at all."
Tiring in turn, emergency staff members lined up to maintain CPR compressions for more about 45 minutes, Piscitelli said.
Briggs said he remembers only bits and pieces of the experience.
"I got in the van, and they ran the EKG," said Briggs in an interview last week. "They cut my shirt off and put the paddles on. It wasn't too long after that that I got zapped, and that hurts. I remember them backing up to the back door there, and that's all I remember for the next three to four days."
Thirty-three "zaps" and a surgery later, he finally was stabilized and entered the intensive care unit at Geauga Medical Center, eventually leaving after an eight-day stay.
Within the 34 shocks, Piscitelli said the staff performed another very rare treatment.
"We actually did a double defibrillation, which is when we put four pads on him instead of two," she said. "This was after about shock 20. It didn't work, but it was worth a try."
According to a news release from UH, five of 73 patients entering UH Geauga's cath lab required defibrillation between January and May this year. Usually, they were shocked between one and three times.
"One in a million shot," said Briggs of his chances at survival following a heart attack of this severity. "Everybody was helpful. I'm so grateful to everyone for what they did."
Despite going through numerous shocks, bruising CPR and surgery to insert a stent in a blocked artery via his groin, Briggs said he is doing well and is rebuilding his strength gradually.
"Monday I ran the brush hog and cleaned up the yard using the Weed Eater," he said last week. "After three hours, I was exhausted. I'm tired most of the time."
Although that three-hour window of yard work "was nothing" for him under normal circumstances, it represents great progress from his first attempt at rehab while he was still in the hospital.
"I stood up out of the bed, and they said, 'Don't move.' My pulse was at 150," he said, adding that was enough of a workout that day. "Now, I just do what I can; if I get tired, I take a break."
Stefano inserted the stent in June and has been helping oversee Briggs' care since.
"After you have an event like this, obviously you're going to have some kind of short period of recovery with standard exhaustion," he said. "That's why we utilize cardiac rehab. It really gets people on their feet a lot quicker with the goal of getting back to normal or even better than before."
Piscitelli said ventricular fibrillation, which Briggs experienced repeatedly, occurs when the heart begins beating too quickly, "quivering" and is incapable of delivery blood effectively to throughout the body. Often she said, hearts in ventricular fibrillation can be beating at a rate of 200 beats per minute.
Stefano said Briggs had a very close call. The fact that Hiram EMS and UH emergency department staff witnessed his cardiac arrest was key to his survival.
"If Frank would have been 10 minutes behind, EMS wouldn't have been there to defibrillate him," he said. "When you have a witnessed [cardiac] arrest, the odds of survival are much improved."
Stafano credits Hiram EMS with a large role in Briggs' survival.
"They're the ones on the front line," said Stefano. "Without their knowledge and expertise, Frank would have been in real trouble."
©2019 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)