Olympia dentist Mike McDonald has a new nickname these days. His friends call him “Miracle Mike.”
And some of his closest friends are a big part of that miracle. Their quick, decisive action — coupled with the timely response of trained emergency medical personnel — saved his life on a sunny Sunday morning in early November.
Bicycling with his wife, Jeanne, and five of their friends en route to the McLane Creek Natural Trail to catch a glimpse of chum salmon spawning in the creek, McDonald collapsed and went into full cardiac arrest along the side of Delphi Valley Road.
McDonald, 62, didn’t have a heart attack, which occurs when the blood supply to part of the heart muscle is blocked. His was a case of ventricular arrhythmia, a sudden short-circuiting of the heart’s electrical impulses, which, in a worst case scenario, causes the heart to quit beating.
Fewer than 8 percent of individuals who suffer cardiac arrest outside of a hospital setting survive, according to statistics provided by the American Heart Association.
McDonald is a survivor because his friends and a passing motorist applied CPR, and within minutes, personnel from the McLane and Black Lake fire departments came to his aid with more CPR, oxygen and an Automated External Defibrillator that stopped the abnormal rhythms and restored his regular heart beat.
Some 30 minutes after his near-death experience, McDonald was sitting up in his hospital bed in the emergency room at Providence St. Peter Hospital, which is home to a regional heart care center where more than 8,500 open heart surgeries have been performed since the doors opened in November 1991.
Add McDonald to the list of open heart surgery patients. He had quadruple bypass surgery two days after the cardiac arrest and was home in time to have a very special Thanksgiving with his family.
Incidentally, McDonald had been experiencing some shortness of breath and chest pain in recent months, had taken a stress test and passed it, but was scheduled for additional cardiology tests this month.
“It’s been pretty traumatic for everybody,” Jeanne McDonald said of her husband, herself and the bicycling friends who helped save his life. “I still get a little nervous at night, but I’m confident we’ll be back on our bikes in the spring.”
“It was way harder on the rest of them than it was on me,” the self-effacing Mike McDonald said. For the record, the bicycling buddies who came to his aid included John and Susie Senner, Tammy Brower and Mike and Sherry Willie.
“It was an amazing, surreal experience with an unbelievable, fantastic and happy ending,” John Senner said in an account of that morning’s events, which included anxious moments when McDonald had no pulse and was not breathing. “Remember, if someone goes down and needs CPR, never give up, keep pumping and keep that blood circulating.”
And the passing motorist headed home from a bicycle ride of his own to Capitol Peak in the Capitol Forest who stopped to lend a hand happened to be a first aid instructor from Joint Base Lewis-McChord — Mike Dearborn. Talk about fortuitous.
“You can’t anticipate when the fire department personnel is going to arrive, so the initial CPR is really important,” Dearborn said last week. “Collectively everybody played a role in keeping him alive.”
When the medics and EMTs arrived, Dearborn stepped aside and left not knowing who it was lying on the ground, fighting for his life.
In the days that followed, McDonald learned Dearborn’s identity from one of his dental patients. He’s had a chance to thank him for coming to his aid.
One of the main reasons McDonald shared his story with me was to deliver a take-home message with life or death consequences.
“Every adult should know how to perform CPR,” the dentist said.
According to the American Heart Association, CPR performed properly by bystanders immediately after sudden cardiac arrest can double or triple the chances of survival for a victim.
Yet less than one-third of the victims outside of a hospital setting receive the immediate CPR attention they need. Some 70 percent of Americans are not trained in CPR, or their training has lapsed, according to the heart association.
I’ve talked to several of my middle-age and senior-citizen friends in the days since we learned about McDonald’s event. Many of us are not trained in CPR, including some folks like me who have underlying issues of heart disease.
More than three years ago, I passed a stress test with flying colors, too, but additional tests discovered a major blockage in the left anterior descending artery of my heart, which required a stent to restore the blood flow.
Anyway, what happened to McDonald was a wake up call for me. You’ll find me at my neighborhood East Olympia fire station at 8 a.m., Dec. 18, taking my CPR training class to ensure I’m not just a helpless bystander if a friend, or stranger, needs life-saving help some day.
John Dodge: 360-754-5444 firstname.lastname@example.org