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The Tidelands Health Newsroom

Published on November 15, 2016

Right Place, Right Time: A Life Saved At Tidelands HealthPoint Center For Health and Fitness

Michael Coward was in great company to have a heart attack.

The 76-year-old retired entrepreneur arrived at Tidelands HealthPoint Center for Health and Fitness on Friday, Oct. 21, to continue with a regular exercise routine he’d started following open-heart surgery in 2014. The surgery had addressed an aortic aneurism and repaired a congenital heart defect very similar to the one that killed Coward’s father at a similar age. 

His wife, Janice, had insisted he begin a regular exercise regimen to help regain his strength and energy. The Cowards chose Tidelands HealthPoint, located in Pawleys Island, because the medical fitness center  – part of Tidelands Health -- offers clinically trained staff with expertise in helping cardiac patients.  

The day began much like any other, except Coward wasn’t feeling particularly well. His exercise physiologist, Richard Morris, noticed Coward’s blood pressure was below normal and went to grab him a glass of water.

To Morris’ dismay, Coward took one sip, suddenly dropped the cup of water and slumped back in his chair. The Pawleys Island resident wasn’t breathing and had no pulse.

Testing would later show that Coward had suffered a heart attack caused by a random blood clot. The condition likely would have proven fatal in any other environment.

But fate instead dealt Coward a more compassionate hand. He would not just survive the ordeal but astonishingly also avoid damage to his heart. He credits Morris, emergency personnel from Midway Fire Rescue, medical professionals at Tidelands Georgetown Memorial Hospital and luck for the extraordinary outcome.

“A great team effort was made, and it saved my life,” said Coward, a married father of two daughters and four grandchildren. “My family and I are exceptionally grateful to Richard and all the caregivers who played a role in this story.”

Only afterward did Coward and Morris have time to reflect on the circumstances that led to such an incredible conclusion.

The stage in many ways was set when Coward and his wife chose Tidelands HealthPoint as his fitness center. In addition to being staffed by degreed exercise physiologists, the facility regularly conducts drills to test its response in case of heart attacks or other medical emergencies.

As the region’s only medical fitness center, Tidelands HealthPoint offers specially designed medical fitness programs, including Stronger After Rehab for individuals recovering from illness or injury and Stronger Through Movement for those who are inactive or living with a chronic condition.

It also happened that Morris is a certified CPR instructor who teaches the technique to others on the Tidelands HealthPoint staff. All Tidelands HealthPoint team members are CPR certified.

Even the mechanics of Coward’s collapse were favorable. Instead of toppling forward or to the floor, he leaned back in his chair with his chin up – a position that allowed Morris to perform CPR immediately and without the risk of moving Coward to the floor. 

Morris remembers performing about 90 chest compressions before Coward began breathing again. Though he had taught dozens of students how to perform CPR, it was his first time applying the technique to anything other than a training dummy.

“At that point it was all instinct and adrenaline,” Morris said. “The harder I was giving the compressions, the more I started to see him coming about.”

Coward regained consciousness shortly before Midway EMTs arrived. He was taken to Tidelands Georgetown, where had a stent put in place to clear the blockage caused by the clot.

The work was complete before family members could arrive.

“We are so lucky to have so many angels among us,” Janice Coward said.

Back at Tidelands HealthPoint, Morris was trying to digest what had happened. He wrapped a cold towel around his head and spent the better part of an hour walking around, reliving the day’s events.

“Going through something like that definitely reminds you what’s important,” said Morris. “I’m just glad to have helped.”

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Tidelands Health is the largest health care provider in Georgetown, Horry and Williamsburg counties. With three hospitals and more than 50 outpatient locations that stretch from Andrews to North Myrtle Beach, Tidelands Health is helping people across the Tidelands region live better lives through better health.