“I think I’m having a heart attack.”
Those frightening words woke University City resident, Rebecca Glenn Ruth, on October 17. They are words that no wife ever wants to hear from her husband. They had been fly fishing the day before in the Current River, which begins in Montauk State Park, located in Dent County, Mo. near Salem, Mo. The water had been up to their thighs and Eugene had perspired a bit more that day.
They had known each other 30 years ago when they both ran independent schools. Rebecca was head mistress of Forsyth School and Eugene was head master for Wilson School. Fifteen years ago, providence brought them together, according to Eugene, and he married his soul mate. They now live in the home his grandfather built in 1909, the house where his father was born, across the street from the elementary school Eugene attended and across from the golf course his grandfather built, it’s called Ruth Park.
Now retired after 45 years of combined careers in education, Rebecca and Eugene Ruth, Jr. looked forward to weekends away. Ten years into their marriage they began taking these week-long excursions. They’d rent a cabin and fly fish in the Blue River trout stream at Montauk. They’d create their own quiet retreat in a cozy cabin where their freshly cooked their meals were adorned with trout from that day’s catch. It’s the lifestyle they had long dreamed of – until their latest excursion came to an abrupt halt.
“I woke with an odd, chilled feeling around 10 a.m.,” said Eugene. “Fifteen minutes later, my left arm began to feel heavy – uncomfortable.” He had been an athlete all his life, in-tune with his body. For years when he ran schools, Eugene reviewed the symptoms of heart attacks with his teachers as part of CRP classes. He knew something wasn’t right.
“This was no time to tough it out, be macho or dismiss symptoms,” said Eugene. “I thought I was having a heart attack. I got dressed and calmly woke Rebecca to give her the news around 10:30 a.m.”
“He’s not an alarmist,” said Rebecca. “He said ‘we need to go to Salem.’ His skin color looked green and felt clammy.” There was no family history of heart disease and he had never been hospitalized. He referred to his cholesterol and blood pressure levels as Harvard and Yale numbers every annual physical. “I couldn’t believe my husband was having a heart attack,” sighed Rebecca. “This wasn’t part of our plan.”
Rebecca dressed quickly. The fog still hadn’t lifted and visibility was poor. She knew it would take at least 25 minutes to drive 22 miles to Salem Memorial Hospital. “When I was driving, I was concentrating as hard as I could, so I wouldn’t run off the roads. Route 199 to State Highway 132 includes curvy, windy roads with hills one after the other. Eugene helped navigate as he had driven this road so many times. Fortunately, the highway was well marked and they had driven past the hospital several times in the last few weeks.
While Rebecca was driving, she had plenty of time to think about the situation. Eugene had never been hospitalized, and was about to have the ride of his life at age 68.
Approximately 25 minutes later, they arrived at Salem Memorial Hospital. Eugene walked up to the front desk of the Emergency Department and said, “I think I’m having a heart attack.” Minutes later the physician confirmed he was, in fact, having a heart attack. With one phone call to Missouri Baptist Medical Center’s ER, they activated the Heart Lifeline Alliance program.
“Eight minutes after the phone call, the helicopter arrived,” said Rebecca. “It was dramatic, but there was no drama. They were out the door with him in a flash. It was quick, efficient and everyone was so reassuring.”
Eugene needed reassurance, however. “I asked the Air Evac helicopter team if I was going to die,” reflected Eugene. “They told me they thought they’d get me to Missouri Baptist in plenty of time. Although I’ve had a very good life, done most of the things I wanted to do, and have a very loving and strong marriage with a wonderful woman, I needed to hear some good news.”
With incredible strength, Rebecca drove another 22 miles back to the cabin to check out and then drove home to pick up clothes for Eugene. “The team at Missouri Baptist offered to keep me updated by cell phone, but Eugene kept the cell phone, just in case I needed to reach him,” explained Rebecca.
“While I was driving back I began to think about the life saving capabilities of this program. Normally a person would have to be driven by ambulance from Sullivan to Missouri Baptist. I was thinking that not long ago we had been in Wyoming and Montana. What would we have done then? The hospital wasn’t 22 miles away. Where would they have taken him? We were out of civilization, we wouldn’t have known where to go. The difference in arrival time to a heart hospital, could jeopardize a person’s life. Then, I relaxed. I began to think about this fabulous program, and I knew everything was going to be okay.”
Meanwhile, the Missouri Baptist team was waiting near the heliport pad to quickly wheel Eugene from the helicopter to the cath lab where Cardiologist John Groll, MD, opened his blocked artery using balloon angioplasty. “He explained exactly what was happening, throughout the procedure and told me what each medication would do,” said Eugene. “He was a great teacher, giving me exactly the kind of information I wanted to know.”
Missouri Baptist’s Heart Lifeline Alliance program is the first of its kind in Missouri and was designed in partnership with the world’s largest air medical fleet, the Air Evac Lifeteam. The goal of the program is to transport heart attack patients from rural hospitals to Missouri Baptist’s Cardiac Cath Lab 24/7 and to open the blocked artery, all within 90 minutes in order to reduce morbidity and mortality. Research suggests that opening up a heart-attack-causing blockage with an angioplasty balloon and stent yields better results than clot-busting drugs.
During a heart attack, every minute that passes means lost heart muscle. “Our 90-minute “door-to-balloon” standard aims to reestablish blood flow to the blocked artery within 90-minutes, minimizing damage to the patient’s heart muscle,” said Chief Medical Officer John Krettek, MD.
“Balloon angioplasty and stenting are performed in the hospital’s state-of-the art cardiac cath suite. The 90-minute clock begins the minute a patient enters our ER or a rural ER complaining of chest pain. ER physicians and specially trained nurses perform an EKG to confirm whether there’s a heart attack. If it’s confirmed, the Missouri Baptist ER alerts the cath lab staff and the patient is prepped for a balloon angioplasty. If not, the patient is moved to a special Chest Pain Center for observation,” Krettek explained.
Eugene reflected back on his experience in the Missouri Baptist ICU. “The nurses I had were phenomenal,” said Eugene. “The entire team was on top of the game the whole time.” He fondly remembers his intensive care nursing team by first name. “Michael – he was first then Holly and Susan. There’s a good feeling among the staff, including nurses aids Tiffany and Ossa. The weekend ICU team had been together couple of years. You have a great hospital here with a great heart program. There’s constant evaluation, which is absolutely imperative. If you can speed up process to get the person here, it makes a difference in life and death.”
When Rebecca arrived at Missouri Baptist, her husband’s artery was opened, he was resting comfortably in ICU, and he greeted his soul mate with a smile.
“We were so just so fortunate,” explained Rebecca. “This program saved my husband’s life. It all worked together. They were right there, waiting for him, waiting to do what needed to be done. The staff was medically confident as well as calm and personal. We’ve been in other hospitals where you think you’ll receive capable care, but that’s not always the case. The culture at Missouri Baptist from the marvelous ICU nurses to the business office was exemplary. I’ll call it the miracle program with people involved who are angelic.”
Six weeks into recovery, Eugene and Rebecca have a newfound philosophy “You can’t eat everything you used to eat, but we’re healthier for it,” said Rebecca. “And we’re more intentional about exercise. Now, we’re walking with a purpose, to places such as the library, post office and to walk the dogs.” A life filled with thanks and purpose, brought together through providence. What an extraordinary gift to a soul-mate.