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Patient Story: When a Heart Stops Beating

Published April 2021 | In Spring 2021 Issue

When Steven Austin’s heart gave out on him, his physicians and caregivers wouldn’t let him give up.

Patient Story: When a Heart Stops Beating Media

The heart is an amazing piece of organic machinery, pumping blood through the body and delivering the oxygen and nutrients required to sustain life. It plays such a vital role that the heartbeat has become synonymous with life itself. If it beats steadily, everything is fine. When it races, it can signify fear, excitement or even love.

But if the heart stops, it can only spell catastrophe. Steven Austin is intimately familiar with the disaster that comes when one’s heart betrays them.

It was a beautiful summer morning, and Steven was enjoying breakfast in the park with his wife and children. He had no idea that a few short hours later, he would be struggling to survive.

After returning home, Steven collapsed. He would later learn that he had suffered cardiac arrest caused by a blood clot in the main artery of his heart. Steven’s wife Cynthia quickly loaded their three children into the car and rushed him to the Emergency Department at Rapid City Hospital. Within just a few moments of their arrival, Steven’s heart stopped beating.

Lifesavers in Action, Twice

What started as a pleasant day had taken a tragic turn. For Cynthia and her children, this could easily have been the worst day of their lives. The Monument Health physicians and caregivers who treated Steven, and those who supported the Austin family, refused to let them give up.

“I do not know the names of the nurses and aides who held my hand and sat beside me when my husband’s heart stopped and he coded in the ER,” said Cynthia. “I wanted to let you know how I appreciated the few minutes you were there with me. Your calm words and warm presence helped me through the darkest moments.”

Joseph Tuma, M.D., FACC, FSCAI, was the physician on duty who operated on Steven. While Steven remembers being taken back to the Cath Lab with Dr. Tuma’s team, he quickly lost consciousness.

After resuscitation, Steven recalled the physician sharing supportive words. Steven felt like he might be okay, perhaps even a little refreshed. Despite this feeling, his ordeal wasn’t over yet. Within an hour, Steven had another heart event while in the Intensive Care Unit, requiring Dr. Tuma and his team to intervene a second time.

“My husband had two cardiac arrests,” explained Cynthia. “Dr. Tuma ran back to the Cath Lab to take care of the clot twice. God bless Dr. Tuma and his team.”

Back to Normal

Following the second intervention, Steven started on the path to recovery. He still had a long way to go to get back to normal, but he had come through the darkest part of the journey.

Steven’s medical treatment was vital to his recovery, but the care delivered to the Austin family went beyond surgery and medication. Caregivers helped the entire family return to their normal lives as quickly as possible. The Austin family is grateful for the attention that the physicians and caregivers gave to all of their concerns. “They were great listeners when I needed pain relief, had concerns for recovering, or questions about insurance and how to get back to health,” Steven added.

Recovering as a Family

No one expects their heart to betray them. Yet a few people, like Steven, have firsthand knowledge of what happens when our hearts stop working. When that happens, time is of the essence, and Cynthia’s quick reaction may have saved her husband’s life.

While getting Steven to the hospital was crucial, the Austins credit the care given to them by the physicians and caregivers for keeping their family intact. “I know I have forgotten a few names,” Steven reflected. “One thing I will not forget is the additional time Monument Health has allowed me to spend with my family.”

The Austin family would like to thank Dr. Tuma and all of Steven’s care team. As Cynthia Austin said, “I witnessed many masked faces with sincere eyes. They were unsung Heroes during those days Steven was in the hospital. I will always remember the few moments you have touched our lives. Thank you for making it lighter.”