Life saved in “miracle” at Georgetown County medical practice
Editor's note: If you or someone you love is experiencing chest pain or other symptoms of a heart attack, call 911 immediately. Don’t attempt to drive yourself to care. Every second counts.
A numbing sense of shock set in almost immediately after Gail Paschal picked up the phone.
On the line was her high school sweetheart and husband of 47 years, David, who said he had been pruning trees at the couple’s Pawleys Island home when he began to suffer from extreme pain in his chest and arms.
Recognizing the signs of a heart attack, David got in his truck and was driving toward his physician’s office at Tidelands Waccamaw Family Medicine, where he hoped – needed - to get help.
“He told me to help him stay awake so he could get there,” Gail Paschal said. “At first I kind of yelled at him for not calling 911, then I just kept talking to him, asking him where he was.
“After he walked into the office, I could hear him say he was having a heart attack, then the phone dropped and went dead.”
David said he doesn’t remember pruning trees, talking to his wife or what happened next. But he and his wife are sure the response from the team at Tidelands Waccamaw Family Medicine, ambulance personnel and Tidelands Georgetown Memorial Hospital saved his life.
“I am ecstatic,” Gail said. “We are so grateful for how everything has worked out.”
Sylvia Smith was behind the counter at Tidelands Waccamaw Family Medicine when David walked in. It was about 12:45 p.m. on Wednesday, May 10 – only a week after she had started in the position.
After explaining he was having a heart attack, David sat down in the waiting area and was breathing irregularly, said fellow medical receptionist Keywonda Williams.
As Williams tried to keep him alert, she summoned help from Montana Matthews, a certified medical assistant, who rushed to the waiting room and called for Dr. R. Andrew Philipp II, David’s physician.
David had slipped into unconsciousness and no longer had a pulse, Matthews said.
“At that point, I didn’t think he would make it,” said medical receptionist Stevonnie Gasque. “It didn’t look good.”
Dr. Philipp, who had performed CPR dozens of times during his medical residency, began chest compressions while David was still seated in the waiting area, Dr. Philipp said. Less than a minute had elapsed since he lost consciousness.
By that time, team members within the office had already called 911. They relocated other patients waiting for care, printed David’s medical charts for use by ambulance personnel and started contacting his family members.
Dr. Philipp and Zeina Ward, a patient service technician, lifted David from the chair to the floor. Dr. Philipp and Dr. Casey Mann, another family physician at the practice, alternated performing chest compressions while Tom Atchison, a certified medical assistant, provided rescue breaths.
Coordinating the response was Jenny Johnson, a certified physician assistant, who timed the compressions and breathing. Ward restored David’s pulse by administering shocks using an automated external defibrillator.
All Tidelands Health physician offices are equipped with AEDs precisely for circumstances such as this one, and each office has clinicians trained in CPR.
“Training just kind of kicked in,” Atchison said. “You don’t really think – you just do what you’re trained to do.”
By the time an ambulance arrived, David had regained a pulse but was not stable, Dr. Philipp said. He would need to be shocked with an AED numerous times on the way to Tidelands Georgetown.
Testing would later show that David had suffered from the most serious type of heart attack, called a ST-elevation myocardial infarction, or STEMI. Unlike most heart attacks, a STEMI is caused by the complete blockage of an artery.
After losing contact with her husband, Gail immediately left her job as office manager at BEC Construction in Murrells Inlet and headed to Tidelands Waccamaw Family Medicine. She was comforted to learn from the practice that her husband was alive and headed via ambulance to Tidelands Georgetown.
She will never forget the agonizing drive to the hospital or the painful moment when she realized her car didn’t have enough fuel to make it.
In a situation where each moment seemed to assume unimaginable importance, she was forced to stop and purchase $3 worth of gasoline.
"Everything seemed to take forever,” she said. “It was going so incredibly slowly.”
Her spirits lifted when she arrived at Tidelands Georgetown and found her husband surrounded by a team of clinicians led by Dr. Mitchell Devlin, a Tidelands Health cardiologist. They were able to stabilize David by opening up the blocked artery and restoring blood flow.
“When I saw that team around him, I felt like everything was going to be OK,” Gail said. “They were doing everything they could to help."
David remains hospitalized at Tidelands Georgetown but is steadily improving. He was transferred out of the hospital’s critical care unit to a regular inpatient room on Wednesday, May 17.
After helping David on the day of his heart attack, the team at Tidelands Waccamaw Family Medicine continued to see patients but remained anxious for news of his condition. They were relieved to learn he was alive and expected to recover.
“I was shaken up after it happened, but it was comforting to know that, at the end of the day, we made a difference,” Matthews said. “We were really pulling for him to make it through.”
Dr. Philipp said he’s never seen an out-of-hospital response to a heart attack go so smoothly. He credited an outstanding group of people, excellent CPR training and the availability of an AED, he said.
“I’m extraordinarily proud of the teamwork here,” Dr. Philipp said. “The patient survived because he was in the right place with an excellent team to care for him. I consider it a miracle.”