Jack Fullen, 61, of Shirley, feels very lucky to have celebrated the holidays and ring in the new year. A former air traffic controller, Jack was enjoying retirement with his wife of 41 years, Penny, as well as his two grown daughters and four grandchildren. Little did he know on October 6, 2014 that feeling a “little fuzzy” would quickly shift to a life-threatening cardiac event.
Fullen had been experiencing some periods of indigestion, and woke up early that Monday to catch up on yard work. “I went out on the deck and felt fuzzy-headed — something just didn’t feel right. I called my wife, who convinced me to go to the hospital to get checked out. I was in no rush, so I waited until after the lunch hour and arrived at Nashoba Valley Medical Center about 1:00 in the afternoon. Next thing I knew, they called my wife and rushed me by ambulance to Lowell General.”
Fullen’s electrocardiogram (EKG) showed an ST elevation MI (myocardial infarction), which means that a part of the heart was not receiving any oxygenated blood due to a 100% blockage of a coronary artery. Mr. Fullen was having a heart attack. Emergency Department physicians immediately alerted the cardiac team at Lowell General Hospital's Heart and Vascular Center.
Cardiologists James Waters, MD and Kirk MacNaught, MD were standing by to perform emergency primary angioplasty by inserting a catheter up to the heart, injecting contrast (dye) to determine the location of the blockage, and then inserting a balloon catheter and coronary stents to open his blocked artery.
Fullen’s case was challenging, as ultimately his heart was failing, and he suffered a variety of life-threatening conditions including irregular heartbeats requiring electrical shocks and other lifesaving interventions to support his breathing and blood pressure. All these conditions come on very quickly in the instance of a heart attack so it is very important to seek medical help immediately — call 9-1-1. Given the severity of his heart attack, it is likely that he would not be here today if he had stayed home.
Even with quick action minimizing door-to-balloon time (time from the onset of heart attack to catheterization) it was still touch and go. The cardiac team worked to stabilize Jack for over a half hour and his heart stopped a total of 11 times while physicians worked to clear his blockage.
“Mr. Fullen improved his chances of survival just by getting to the hospital — it is a HUGE predictor whether someone will survive a cardiac incident,” says Dr. MacNaught. “A blockage must be cleared within 90 minutes or less, as time harms heart muscle.”
We see these cases every day but I must admit this was one of the most rewarding in my experiences as a cardiac nurse,” says Stacey Cayer, RN. “After Mr. Fullen went into cardiac arrest the first time and was revived, we brought his wife and daughter in, and they told him he needed to get home so he could wear his new Patriots shirt — it was heart-wrenching.”
Mr. Fullen was hospitalized for a total of eight days and after 10 days back home he was riding his lawn tractor without chest pain. Like most heart attack survivors, he participated in cardiac rehabilitation three times a week on an outpatient basis for the next several months to regain his health and heart strength.
“I knew I had some risk factors, as my dad died at 42 of a massive heart attack and heart disease runs in the family. I’ve since made some huge changes in my lifestyle; quitting smoking, eating healthier, and I’m out exercising more. They also say work stress can play a big role, so I’m happy to be retired,” says Fullen.
“I can remember as an air traffic controller, you would experience emergencies and do the best you can — you can only hope for the best. After this experience, and knowing I was so close to leaving my wife and family, I really know what “hoping for the best” means. I am so grateful for the nurses and doctors at Lowell General, and that this team was able to work the magic that they did.”