It was the middle of the night, and 68-year-old Mike Welch was a little hesitant to wake his wife, but he remembered the advice his daughter-in-law, a nurse, had given him a couple of weeks prior when he told her he was having some concerns about his heart: “Well, you don’t want to fool around – go and get it checked out,” he recalled her telling him.
“In my mind, it was a little foolish to wake my wife up at 3 a.m. in the morning,” he said. He really wasn’t in any great pain. But when his wife, Lezlee, heard what he had to say – just four words – she was wide awake. “He said, ‘I don’t feel right,’ and the word ‘right’ just didn’t sound right coming from him,” she said. “It clued me in something was terribly wrong.”
Mike’s left shoulder was aching and he was short of breath.
The couple got in the car and Lezlee headed toward UCHealth Pikes Peak Regional Hospital, about 5 or 6 minutes away from their Woodland Park home. They passed a fire station in their own neighborhood on the way, but Mike urged his wife to keep going. “He said, ‘drive faster … I want to go to the hospital.’” He’d repeat those two words again to his wife – more urgently – and that was the last memory he’d have for several days.
Mike’s heart stopped seconds after they arrived at the emergency department. Lezlee had managed to get him to a chair right inside the door, and at that point, he had lost total consciousness and was lifeless. “I was hysterical and screaming,” Lezlee said.
Almost immediately, medical staff heard her cries and were at her side, wheeling Mike to a resuscitation room.
On duty that night – Feb. 1, 2022, – was Dr. Miguel Sandoval, an emergency medicine physician, who along with two other nurses and a tech, quickly began trying to revive Mike.
“At that point, he looked like he had no pulse. We got him on the gurney, I checked for a pulse, and then I started compressions. He was in what’s called ventricular fibrillation, and it’s one of those rhythms that you see frequently in folks that are having cardiac problems; it’s a deadly rhythm.
“After we got him on the monitor, we did defibrillate him, and then we continued another two minutes of CPR,” Sandoval recalled.
Mike’s heart began beating, but he was by no means out of the woods. He needed medication and fluids, but the team was having trouble placing an IV.
“Once we had a pulse, we still did not have any way to give him medications. I then put in an intraosseous line – basically, I drilled in a metal IV, a needle into his shin bone, in order to give him that. It’s a common procedure that we will do if we have a hard time getting access on folks quickly,” Sandoval said. “We started giving him some fluids and I gave him a medication called epinephrine, or adrenaline, to help prevent him from going back into arrest.”
Mike’s blood pressure was low, and Sandoval was worried at that moment that Mike’s heart would again stop beating.
The next priority was to get Mike to UCHealth Memorial Hospital Central in Colorado Springs for further cardiac care. The team called for helicopter transport.
“From a critical access hospital in Woodland Park, the next step is you need to go to an ICU,” Sandoval said.
At Memorial Central, Mike was given medication to stabilize his blood pressure and was taken to the cath lab. Dr. Cihan Cevik, an interventional cardiologist, was on call early that morning.
“His LAD (left anterior descending artery) was 90% blocked,” said Cevik, who guided a catheter up through a wrist artery to the blockage, where he then placed a stent to keep the blood vessel open.
The procedure took 22 minutes, and Cevik went to see Welch the next day in the ICU.
“He said he was feeling great – that he was ready to go home,” Cevik recalled.
Sandoval also called Memorial Hospital to check on his patient the next day. He was thrilled with what he learned: Mike was doing well, with no neuro deficits.
Sandoval also said that while he always encourages everyone to consider 911 in an emergency, in this case, the timing could not have been better for Mike. “The fact that they were here, at the hospital, and he had a downtime of maybe three minutes before getting CPR, defibrillation, and epinephrine – that’s mind-boggling to think about how fortunate we were with the timing. Cardiac arrest in general, the outcomes are not that great; it’s not television. For him to have arrested and gotten a return of circulation with a pulse as quickly as he did was awesome.”
Lezlee Welch wants everyone to know about the gem of a hospital that’s in their community so much so that she posted the details of Mike’s cardiac arrest and his care at Pikes Peak Regional on Facebook.
“Everyone in Woodland Park needs to know – the older people especially – that the hospital can handle critical emergencies. People need to realize it’s a great hospital – they can handle it. Have the confidence that in an emergency you can go there; you don’t have to drive down the hill (to Colorado Springs.)
“Back a long time ago, he probably would still be in the hospital, but the amazing part of this whole thing is you can actually go into cardiac arrest completely have your heart stop on a Tuesday morning and be home by Friday and it was just amazing,” she added.
She and Mike are also making some lifestyle changes, particularly to their diet. They are eating healthier, cooking vegetables, cutting out sugary snacks and lowering their salt intake.
“Another thing that I think is very important for us – for everybody – is to take a CPR class. Had I been here (at home), and he had lost consciousness here, I would’ve been in a lot of trouble,” Lezlee said. “So that’s something we’re going to do together. I’ve always wanted to; I have grandchildren I need to know.”
Sandoval can only smile when he thinks of that night at Pikes Peak Regional Hospital – a place he loves to work.
“The last few years have been not awesome for medicine, and definitely not emergency medicine,” he said, referring to the COVID-19 pandemic. “You know there’s been a lot of mistrust and anger and sadness. At that moment, Mr. Welch needed us, but I also needed this. This is a huge win for me and I’m just grateful that I got to be there.”