Presuming these symptoms were related to a hot flash, or possibly the flu, Linda headed back home to rest for the remainder of the day. Upon her arrival, however, Eric Niedbalski noticed his wife didn’t look well, and insisted they head to the Brooks Hospital emergency department. Eric’s resolve proved to be the decision of a lifetime, as moments after arriving at the hospital, Linda collapsed into cardiac arrest.
Michael Klein, DO, emergency department physician at Brooks Memorial Hospital, remembers that day clearly. “Linda was in bed #5 suffering a massive heart attack. Her heart quivered with ventricular fibrillation, which caused her blood pressure to plummet. I’ll be honest, it didn’t look good.”
Forty-five minutes into CPR, shocks to the heart with a defibrillator, and multiple medication administrations, Dr. Klein approached Eric with words a husband never wants to hear. Linda wasn’t expected to make it.
Those who know Linda’s moxie will not be surprised to hear that this day was far from being her last. Despite the bleak prognosis - she stabilized and joined in the conversation between her doctor and husband. Once again, however, she went into cardiac arrest.
With the heart, soul, and will of a tiger, again Linda stabilized, attempted to get out of bed, and proceeded to speak with her nurses. Then again, she went into cardiac arrest.
This cycle went on for three and a half hours and seventy-seven defibrillation shocks to the heart.
“I’ve never seen anything like it”, shares ED nurse Constance Minnich, RN. Colleague, Phoebe Long, RN concurred. In all their combined years in emergency medicine, Constance, Phoebe and teammate Sara Couchman, RN say this was definitely a first.
"Patients in cardiac arrest from ventricular fibrillation are almost without exception, unconscious. Linda would have periods where she was in ventricular fibrillation but still be awake. This was astounding for us to see”, Dr. Klein added.
Josh Newark, EMT-Paramedic with Alstar EMS, added, “I had just finished dropping off another patient by ambulance, witnessed all the activity, and figured I better stick around,” Newark said. Josh and his partner Liz Adkins - EMT, later transported Linda to Buffalo General Medical Center where dedicated heart specialists offer state-of-the-art technology for advanced cardiac surgery. The Dunkirk-Buffalo trip is one that Alstar makes regularly to facilitate coordinated care between Brooks Memorial Hospital, and specialized facilities within the Kaleida Health system.
Linda was transferred to Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester where she was a candidate for a heart transplant. For two grueling weeks, Linda was on life support and later placed in a medically induced coma. Upon waking, she learned that her legs had been amputated just above the knees due to the loss of blood flow to her organs related to the heart attack. Thankfully, Linda kept her own heart and her hips, but not before two additional surgical revisions to her legs.
Hearts and Hands
“The individual doing chest compressions is often the unsung hero in a code situation,” shares Dr. Klein. In Linda’s situation, the chest compressions were done by the nurses, medical assistants, respiratory therapist, EMTs and paramedics, all of whom are trained in CPR.
“It truly is amazing that her brain and neurologic system survived completely intact,” Dr. Klein said. “I think a part is certainly Linda's will to live and fierce determination. I think the other big factor is that she received effective chest compressions throughout the entire resuscitation. Chest compressions done effectively maintain blood flow to the brain while the heart is not pumping.”
The Niedbalski’s credit Dr. Klein and the entire ED team, nurses, medical assistants, pharmacist, EMTs, respiratory therapists and paramedics for saving her life. “They never gave up on me. They just wouldn’t give up.”