Tom’s Story: Cardiovascular Services at Overlook
“Cool” Approach to Saving the Life of Cardiac Arrest Victim
Tom Vitale is a typical suburban husband and father in his mid-40s. A couple of winters ago, however, something very atypical happened to him…suddenly and without warning.
Tom went into cardiac arrest on the front lawn of his next-door neighbors’ New Providence home following a morning of sleigh riding with them and his own young children. His neighbor performed CPR on Tom’s lifeless body until New Providence police arrived on the scene with an Automated External Defibrillator (AED). They administered a shock to his heart and managed to restore a faint pulse.
When paramedics transported Tom to Overlook’s Emergency Department, he was alive, but in a comatose state. Dr. Stephen Sabo, the Emergency Department physician, ordered a relatively new procedure – a hypothermia-induced coma – to prevent damage to Mr. Vitale’s brain, after consultation with Coronary Care Unit residents and attending cardiologist Dr. Daniel Schwartz. During the procedure, patients are wrapped with an external cooling device, which lowers their body temperature to approximately 92 degrees. Cooling down the body and the brain reduces the brain’s demand for oxygen and facilitates the healing process following cardiac arrest.
Tom woke up from his hypothermic coma in Overlook’s Cardiac Intensive Care Unit on Christmas Day, surrounded by his family, friends and college fraternity brothers from Lehigh University.
“I remember waking up, and hearing people on the Today Show shouting Merry Christmas,” recalled Tom. “I thought Christmas was still a week away.”
Although Tom had no symptoms of cardiac disease and tests revealed no blocked arteries, Dr. Schwartz suggested that he have an implantable cardiac defibrillator placed in his chest. The device, which he will wear for the rest of his life, is about the size of a small pager with two leads connected to his heart. If it detects a rapid or irregular heartbeat, it sends a low-energy shock to restore Tom’s heart to a normal rhythm.
Three months later, Tom returned to his job as a management consultant and resumed his full schedule of activities. And, three months after that, he played an impressive round of golf with the physicians who saved his life. Participating in the Overlook Foundation Golf Tournament, Tom scored closest to the pin and won a new pair of golf shoes!
“Not only was I back in the game, but my game was better than ever!” said the grateful father of two.