Dr. Larry Sternberg - Plymouth, MI
"It was the week after Christmas. I only worked one day that week. I had 95 percent blockage in my LAD. If I hadn't been at the hospital, I wouldn't have survived."
Hospital Staff and STEMI Protocols Saved the Life of Surgeon Who Had Heart Attack at Work
"I never thought, at 53 years old, that I was going to have a heart attack," said Lawrence Sternberg, D.P.M., a podiatrist with Midland Family Foot Care.
In fact, Dr. Sternberg had one of the most serious kinds of heart attacks, caused by blockage of his left anterior descending artery, or LAD, which runs down the front of the heart.
On Fridays, Dr. Sternberg drives from home in Plymouth to MyMichigan Medical Center Clare to perform outpatient foot and ankle surgeries. The last Friday in December, he was about to go into surgery when he felt odd and noticed that he was perspiring.
There in the outpatient surgery unit, colleagues placed Dr. Sternberg on an EKG machine to monitor his heart, and he went to sit and rest in the staff lounge.
"I thought I was just tired and out of shape," he said. "You associate a heart attack with chest pain or jaw pain, but I just felt like my diaphragm was being pushed on. I thought it was indigestion, and I was waiting to see if I felt better."
Dr. Sternberg's colleagues were still concerned, and alerted Anesthesiology Department Manager Russell Rader, C.R.N.A. Rader went to check on him, and after taking a look, determined he needed to go to the Emergency Department. When they got there, they were met by Emergency Medicine Physician Keith Eaton, M.D.
"I kind of shocked Dr. Eaton," said Dr. Sternberg. "They walked me in and told him, 'This is one of our docs. He doesn't feel good.' All of a sudden he became very focused. He couldn't have been nicer."
Dr. Sternberg was having the most serious type of heart rhythm disturbance, called ventricular fibrillation, or Vfib. The lower chambers of his heart were quivering instead of beating. For two minutes his heart couldn't pump any blood. At one point, Dr. Sternberg's heart stopped, and Operating Room Nurse Bret Pawlowski, R.N., a former critical care paramedic, performed chest compressions. Emergency Department staff members used a defibrillator on Dr. Sternberg, and were able to restart his heart.
"I had 95 percent blockage in my LAD," Dr. Sternberg said. "If I had not been at the hospital, I would not have survived."
When his condition was stable, the doctor was transported by ambulance to MyMichigan Medical Center Midland for an emergency heart catheterization. Time is critical for a heart attack patient suffering from a ST Elevation Myocardial Infarction (STEMI). The Medical Center had been alerted to use STEMI protocols, which allows heart attack patients to bypass the ER and go straight to the cardiac catheterization lab, typically saving about 20 minutes.
When Dr. Sternberg arrived, Interventional Cardiologist Andrzej Boguszewski, M.D., and his team were in the catheterization area, ready to perform a balloon angioplasty procedure to expand the narrowed vessels and restore blood flow to his heart.
Dr. Sternberg said it was interesting being a doctor who was a patient. "The cardiac team made me feel like I was going to survive," he said. "The nurses were great. They said Dr. Sternberg this, and Dr. Sternberg that, so I told them, 'Call me Larry,' which worked out much better."
MyMichigan Medical Center Clare had called Dr. Sternberg's wife to let her know what was happening, and he called and spoke to her from the ambulance. "She and my daughter were up in Midland two hours later," Dr. Sternberg said. "They thought I'd be out of it, but there I was talking to them, and I felt pretty good."
He has continued to follow up with Dr. Boguszewski and Family Nurse Practitioner Laura Brown, F.N.P.-B.C., M.S.N., and now, a few months after his experience, feels like he's getting back to normal. "I'm walking about half an hour a day on a treadmill and following the cardiac diet," he said.
Dr. Sternberg is also back to work performing foot and ankle surgery with the surgical team in Clare, whose help he will never forget. "They were amazing," he said. "They couldn't have been better. You meet every Friday…you think it's going to be a normal day," he said, pausing to add, "All I can say it, it's nice to have friends."
Based on his experience, Dr. Sternberg also offers this advice: "If you're not feeling right, rather than go through your everyday routine, you should seek medical attention," he said. "Take your own body's warning signs seriously. Don't think the symptoms will just go away."
With state protocols now in place, MyMichigan's Regional STEMI Alert Program is approved for up to a 90-minute patient transport time to MyMichigan Medical Center Midland. To ensure the overall success of the program, MyMichigan Medical Center Emergency Medical Services actively collaborates with other area EMS providers to provide ongoing training and support. Those interested in more information on MyMichigan's Regional STEMI Alert Program may visit www.mymichigan.org/stemi.