It all happened so fast and without warning. Last June, before he could even draw his first monthly pension from Lockheed Martin, Todd Hall suffered a major heart attack necessitating emergency quintuple bypass surgery and later a defibrillator implant. Although he still wonders how many times he can cheat death, Todd, now a Mercy Heart Center volunteer and patient ambassador, says, “I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s simply not my time yet, and I’m going to keep on enjoying life. Every day is a blessing.”
Todd Hall’s heart disease could have been his silent killer. He never felt any symptoms of the impending attack that nearly took his life on June 24, 2016.
With a law degree from Wake Forest University School of Law, Todd decided to enter the business world in 1981, first for the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company and then for Lockheed Martin’s Mission Systems & Sensors (MS2). He took severance in December 2015 and officially retired in June 2016 as a director of contracts, a position that took him all over the United States and the world.
“International travel and negotiations with foreign governments were a big part of my job, and I spent time even in places considered politically unstable,” he says. “Looking back, I think it’s possible stress may have contributed to my heart condition.”
Twelve Hours of Surgery & Six Bypasses Later
The day he was brought to the Mercy Emergency Department, Todd said he did not feel good. He called a friend who became very concerned for Todd and called an ambulance for him. He remembers staff members in the ER comforting him and seeing Ahmed Sabe, MD, the interventional cardiologist on call for Mercy’s emergency department catheterization lab, the nation’s first and only of its kind.
Following Todd’s catheterization in the emergency department to stop the acute heart attack, Dr. Sabe recognized the need for immediate yet complex heart surgery and contacted Roberto Novoa, MD, cardiovascular and thoracic sugeon. Twelve hours of emergency surgery and six bypasses later, Dr. Sabe assisted Dr. Novoa with placing Todd on the TandemHeart® PTVA (percutaneous transseptal ventricular assist) System, a device that functions like a cardiac bypass machine to assist with blood circulation. However, unlike a cardiac bypass, which can be used for only eight hours, TandemHeart can work for several days, making it possible for a high-risk patient like Todd to safely recover after surgery. Dr. Sabe is one of the nation’s most experienced cardiologists using percutaneous cardiac assist devices.
During recovery, Todd was in a medically induced coma for more than seven days. Once out of the coma, Todd spent an additional 12 days in the Mercy Cardiovascular Special Care Unit until discharged on July 5. He also started cardiac rehabilitation.
Scare in the Middle of the Night
Todd’s cardiologist, Makilzhan Shanmugam, MD, with Mercy Cardiovascular Institute (MCI), ordered an echocardiogram in August. The test revealed blood clots, and Todd was admitted again and placed on blood thinners. Dr. Shanmugam also referred Todd to Jennifer Cummings, MD, an MCI cardiac electrophysiologist.
“Dr. Cummings recommended a defibrillator implant,” says Todd. “After everything I had been through, I had a lot of questions and decided to seek a second and a third opinion. Dr. Cummings supported me in that. In the end, I could see I needed the defibrillator, and she performed the surgery last October.”
Todd completed cardiac rehabilitation in December 2016, losing 65 pounds through significant changes to diet and exercise. He was feeling good. Then, in late January, he woke up at 3 am gasping for air and screaming. During a scheduled appointment with Dr. Cummings that very same day, she reviewed the data from his home monitoring device and told Todd his heart had stopped beating. The defibrillator had restarted it. Without it, Todd would have died.
Todd says, “How many times could I cheat death? I kept asking myself that. I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s simply not my time yet, and I’m going to keep on enjoying life. Every day is a blessing.”
Being the Voice of the Patient
Although Todd started volunteering at Mercy in February 2016 doing patient transport, he has embraced his current assignments at the Mercy Heart Center information desk and as a patient ambassador, due in large part to his own experience as a patient.
“Everyone in the Mercy Heart Center has been great,” Todd says. “In fact, many are more like friends than simply health care providers. It’s one of the big reasons I enjoy volunteering here. I can offer a listening ear and provide comfort for families, and because of my time as a patient, I can really empathize and share with them.”
Todd has also accepted an additional advisory role as the voice of the patient to the Mercy Patient Experience Committee. He was offered the volunteer position because of his experience as a patient and work as a patient ambassador.
“When I listen to patients, the overwhelming majority of them are so happy with the personal care and attention they receive at Mercy,” says Todd. “Yet, there are always little things we can do to improve the patient experience. I will strive to be a voice that represents all patients and families who receive care here.”