Central Texas man talks about surviving 'widowmaker' heart attack

Posted: 3:55 PM, Feb 07, 2018
Updated: 2018-06-19 19:01:09Z
Central Texas man talks about surviving 'widowmaker' heart attack

There is a Central Texas man who should not be here as the nation celebrates American Heart Month.

Jeff Fisher said he suffered one of the worst kinds of heart attacks two years ago. Doctors call it a "widowmaker."

As you'll find out, sometimes there are no signs or symptoms leading up to it, but there are ways to bring you back from near death.

Central Texas News Now met with Jeff Fisher in November. He said he spends a lot of time after school with his daughter, Austin.

"I really like that my dad gets to work at school because I get to see him every day and come to school with him sometimes, and sometimes if I forget to get a permission slip signed, he can sign it for me," Austin said.

There was a while, however, when he was not working at Midway High School in Waco as the Junior ROTC instructor.

"I started feeling the typical numbness and pain up and down my left arm," Jeff said.

He said he was on a run on Sept. 28, 2015. It is something he said he did at lunch around the school nearly every day.

He is a retired marine after all, very fit and always had been. That is why he said he kept running through it.

"I knew there was something wrong, but again, I've overheated before. I've pushed myself to the point where you know I've almost passed out," Jeff said.

This time, it ended up being absolutely no time to push. Jeff said he went back to the school to find help. The people he found called the nurse.

"She had aspirin waiting," Jeff said.

He said he then got into a car with a friend in a car, but he couldn't leave just then. He said he had forgotten his wallet.

"I didn't want my wife, if she was going to have to come over to the hospital for some reason, to have to mess with insurance or anything. I told Brad, I don't have my wallet and he very colorfully explained to me that I didn't need it and I just threw the door open and jumped out," Jeff said.

"I got my wallet and we went out the side entrance and got back in the car."

After that, he said they finally went to the hospital. He said he remembers getting out of the car, but that is it.

"Everything else I'm going to tell you for the next 36 hours is all that I've been told because I don't have any recollection of it," Jeff said.

Jeff said nurses did chest compressions and used the defibrillator again and again and again.

"There's a nurse sitting on top of me doing compressions and I guess she would do them enough to where my blood was flowing well enough to where I would actually grab her wrists, sit up and look at her and then go back out again," Jeff said.

After that, Dr. Donald Cross took over and used a state of the art device, the Impella.

"Most of the time when we use this, a patient comes in and they've had a heart attack and most of their muscle is in jeopardy, not working very well, we open an artery but the patient needs time to recover, for that heart muscle function to recover," Dr. Cross said. "So we can put this Impella device in and it increases the cardiac output and allows the patient's heart muscle to heal as we continue to support the rest of the body."

It is a device that Dr. Cross said helped save Jeff's life.

"Once we got his heart rhythm more stable, got the artery open, then we were able to get this Impella device in, which in my opinion, was the difference maker in him surviving," Dr. Cross said.

Jeff said he got the chance to see that device first hand this fall.

"I knew they had told me that I had the stent put in and I knew what that process involved ... but I had no idea about the Impella device," Jeff said.

After he survived the heart attack, Jeff said it took him until January, about four months, to get back to his old self.

"I run three to four times a week now. I lift three or four times a week," Jeff said. "I really have no limitations except for ones I put on myself."

Now, it is back to expecting the same of his JROTC cadets. One of them, Kenneth Snider, has a special connection to not only Jeff as a teacher but also Jeff as a heart attack patient.

"The way I remember my mom saying it is she saw a flash on the wall that looked like an angel or something was over him," Snider said.

Snider said his mother was in a hospital room right next to Jeff's the day he had the heart attack. Jeff said she already knew him personally, but had no idea it was him in the room close to death. All Snider said she knew is she needed to pray for the person next door. That is when, they said, something miraculous happened.

"When it got really quiet, they both saw something streak across the top of their room. So, they swear it was my guardian angel," Jeff said.

Whatever it was that saved him, a guardian angel, the prayers, the doctors or the device, everyone involved said the near-death experience has been a life-changing experience for Jeff.

"It's been great. It's really been very special. Jeff is a Marine and I come from a military family so this was something that was really nice for me," Dr. Cross said as he teared up.

It is an experience Jeff said he shares not only because it is an incredible story, but also because it is a teaching moment.

"Sometimes there's not a sign to go to the doctor and be persistent and get checked," Jeff said.

The widow maker heart attack happens when the most important artery in the front of the heart is totally blocked, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The symptoms include chest pain, chest pressure, chest tightness and shortness of breath.

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