Carol and Kevin Turnquist

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Area business leader experiences sudden cardiac arrest

by Kevin Turnquist, Vice President, Operations, North Star Bank


“Ambulance arriving, Trauma 1, SCA Code Blue” is how I imagined my arrival at the Peter J. King Emergency Care Center. Much of what happened for and to me during my stay at United Hospital has been shared with me by family and friends. You will understand why after I tell you my story.

Saturday morning, Feb. 7, 2015, I was sitting in a barber’s chair after getting my haircut. My stylist, who is my wife’s cousin, thought I had fallen asleep as my head sagged forward. Another patron realized that I was having a serious medical issue, got me out of the chair and onto the floor. I was very fortunate there were three women with extensive first responder experience, waiting for rides after their appointments. The women took turns performing CPR until the paramedic teams arrived. I later learned I had a ventricular fibrillation that led to a full cardiac arrest.

The paramedics continued CPR while they prepared to use a LUCAS device (a portable device that administers CPR in a very effective, albeit violent, manner.) Interesting note: Many of the LUCAS devices used by local fire departments and ambulance crews were provided through the United Hospital Foundation. The paramedics also used an AED three times to shock my heart. I was transported with the LUCAS device pumping away and an IV in my shin. My stylist had called my wife during this time to let her know I needed to go to a hospital.

The Emergency Department (ED) at United Hospital is state-of-the-art and operates like a well-oiled machine. The first minutes and hours are the most critical when diagnosing and treating cardiac conditions. I was being treated by the best and the brightest, even though I didn’t know it at the time. Knowing the Nasseff Heart Center was next door comforted my family.

While I was being treated and stabilized, my family was taken to a lounge to await news. You can imagine what they were going through, dealing with the shock of my sudden and unexpected heart failure. The charge nurse,attending physician, cardiologist and interns took turns visiting them with updates and answering questions. I will always be grateful for the compassion they showed my family during this trying time.

My care team followed all of the best practices in treating me. My body temperature was lowered to 90 degrees for 36 hours. I required almost constant monitoring during this time. Part of their job was taking off the blankets that my wife put on me because I was shivering.Sunday night. They removed the cooling device and allowed my temperature to rise. My body did not react well and they deepened my coma. My family was told this would be the turning point in my recovery, for better or worse.

What we didn’t understand at the time was that I might never return to my former self. I was in a medically induced coma for three more days in keeping with best practices for patients with possible anoxic brain damage. It took several days to completely come out of the coma. I slowly became aware of my surroundings and interacted with staff and family. There were many tests performed during the first week of my stay at United. I also worked with staff from Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institute™ to assess my physical and cognitive status. Nobody knew for sure how long I had been deprived of oxygen or what type of long-term therapy I needed. 

Then, the magic happened. One day, I did not know my age or date of birth. Three days later, I was back to solving math problems in my head that most people would need a calculator to solve. I began moving around my room, and eventually the rest of the floor using a walker. In a matter of days, I was walking without any assistance. However, it did take me a while to figure out how to disable the alarm they had attached to me in an attempt to keep me in bed! I ordered everything I could from the food menu, and waited anxiously each day for the newspaper to work the New York Times crossword puzzle. The staff at the hair salon nicknamed me M&M, for Miracle Man. Dr. Michael Peterson, my electrocardiologist, called me Bullet Man because I told him several times that I had “dodged a bullet.” I had created a bit of a buzz in the hospital because of my amazing recovery from an event that only five percent of people survive.

On Monday, Feb. 16, I had an ICD implanted in my chest and connected to my heart. “Old Sparky” is ready to deliver the necessary shock to my heart if ventricular fibrillation or cardiac arrest occurs. Tuesday it was time to go home. Many doctors, nurses, and other staff treated me during my 11 days at the hospital. It seemed they all came by to see me and share in my family’s joy that I was going to walk out of the hospital under my own power to resume a fairly normal life. There were lots of hugs and smiles.  It did take me a few days to get my strength back, and I did rest quite a bit at first. As the days went by, I realized how fortunate I was to survive my event with very few consequences. On Feb. 24, I returned to work on a part-time basis. After a couple of weeks, I resumed my full schedule, both at work and at home. I can honestly say that, outside of some minor issues with the ICD implant site, I am exactly where I was before my sudden cardiac arrest.

Today, I have a much greater respect for life and enjoy every day to the fullest. I will be forever grateful to the doctors and staff at United for their remarkable treatment and giving me such a great outcome. Every bit as important to me is the kind and compassionate way they treated my wife and family. They were never too busy to check in on them and make sure all of their questions were answered. My wife insisted that I betaken to United Hospital, and I am living proof that she made the right choice.