‘Wouldn’t have given into better hands’ | Health beat
Mark Erickson was riding a bicycle with his daughter Kayla when a heart attack brought him mortality. A stranger appeared to save him. (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
Mark lived to tell the story because the health system worked from start to finish. And because the right person came with the right answer at the right time. (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
Mark and Kayla often went hiking, biking, or rollerblading on the nearby White Pine Trail. “That’s where we’re going … ‘Hey, let’s get on the trail.’ Okay, ‘Boom. Here we go,” he said. (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
Seven miles after the drive where the trail crosses Childsdale Avenue, Mark passed out and fell. A couple driving by called 911. (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
When he walked on the scene half a minute later, Tyler Nickels jumped out of his car. “I could tell the second I got out of the car that he wasn’t breathing.” (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
Tyler, a clinical data analyst at Spectrum Health, had worked as a nurse at the Fred and Lena Meijer Heart Center for years. He started with chest compressions. (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
Araya Negash, DO, was the cardiologist on call when Mark arrived at the trauma ward. Dr. Negash performed a cardiac catheterization to diagnose the cause of the collapse of his marrow. (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
Severe coronary artery disease had blocked several of Mark’s heart vessels, including the left main coronary artery. He would have four vessel bypass surgery. (Courtesy photo by Mark Erickson)
“(Tyler) was everything to me, it really was him,” said Mark. “Like I told him, ‘You had to be the perfect person in the perfect place at the perfect time for me to be here.'” (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
“The whole thing just makes me go nuts – just thinking about all the things that went together perfectly and how God brought everyone into my life,” said Mark. (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
“He processed this whole event in a very healthy way,” says Dr. Negash over mark. “He’s really used to the emotional part of getting better a lot faster than most of my patients.” (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
His story, Mark said, was one of perfect timing, selfless heroes, loyal family members, and “phenomenal” medical staff. (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
Ask Mark Erickson to share what happened to him on the afternoon of July 31, 2020, and he will shake his head in almost disbelief – even now, more than a year later.
That day Erickson faced his mortality.
He lived to tell the story because the health system worked from start to finish. And because the right person came with the right answer at the right time.
“He wasn’t breathing”
On that sunny Friday, Erickson, 54, a mortgage insurer, and his daughter Kayla, 20, a college student, did what they often do at the end of the day: go outside.
Comstock Park, Michigan residents, the two of them love to hop nearby White pine path for hiking, cycling or inline skating.
“That’s where we go – ‘Hey, let’s get on the trail.’ “Okay,” boom. And let’s go, ”said Erickson.
This time they grabbed their bikes and headed north towards Rockford.
Seven miles after their drive, where the path crosses Childsdale Avenue, Erickson passed out and fell lifeless to the ground.
Kayla, cycling in front of him, sensed his absence. She stopped, saw him lying on the path and jerked back in shock.
A couple driving north on Childsdale happened to see Erickson fall. They stopped to call 911.
When he walked on the scene half a minute later, Tyler Nickels followed suit and jumped out of his car.
“My first reaction when I saw him – he was pale gray, basically there was no color on his face,” said Nickels. “I could tell the second I got out of the car that he wasn’t breathing.”
Nickels, a clinical data analyst with Spectrum Health, had an ace up his sleeve. For four years, until almost eight months earlier, he worked as a nurse in the Spectrum Health Fred and Lena Meijer Heart Center.
He knew what to do for Erickson.
He looked for a pulse, but couldn’t find one, and began doing chest compressions.
When, after almost a minute, he could only get Erickson to breathe with his hands CPR, Nickels wanted to supplement the chest compressions with breath ventilation.
But this was summer 2020, at the height of the coronavirus pandemic – not a good time for mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.
“Without COVID, I would probably have done it myself, but without knowing him and just being a stranger, I asked if there was a family member who could take a few breaths.”
Even though her father’s collapse had left her in panic and despair, Kayla came to the rescue.
The two worked together until the first responders arrived – first a Rockford police officer, then crews from the Plainfield Township Fire Department, Kent County Sheriff’s Office and crews Rockford ambulance.
Nickels resigned, doubting Erickson’s chance of survival; he didn’t seem to come. But as worried as he was about the man’s future, he was even more worried about how this event would affect Kayla.
Eventually, unable to do more, Nickels and his wife drove on to a brewery around the corner where they met friends.
There they met the couple from the first car, the 911 callers. They’d got Kayla’s phone number and agreed to let Nickels know what they’d learned about Erickson’s status.
Nickels later learned that the paramedics successfully resuscitated Erickson and rushed him Spectrum Health Butterworth Hospitalwhere he underwent a series of tests.
Corresponding Araya Negash, DO, the cardiologist on call, when Erickson arrived at the trauma bay, the EKG tests showed no evidence of an acute heart attack. Erickson therefore did not need emergency heart surgery.
Tests showed bleeding in his brain, likely related to his fall. Erickson was given sedation medication and transferred to the intensive care unit for close monitoring and evaluation by the neurosurgical team.
When the doctors stopped his sedation medication, Erickson began to recover.
Further tests showed that he was neurologically intact, said Dr. Negash, and stable enough to undergo a cardiac catheterization exam to investigate the cause of his breakdown.
Dr. Negash passed a catheter through a thin tube inserted into an artery and took pictures of the arteries around Erickson’s heart. The pictures showed seriousness coronary heart disease– Blockages in multiple vessels, including the left main coronary artery.
“Cardiac arrest is essentially an electrical problem, so your heart gets caught in an arrhythmia that is often fatal,” said Dr. Negash.
“In this case, it was a blocked artery problem that was creating an electrical problem –Ventricular fibrillation. “
Due to the number and location of the blockages, Dr. Negash opposed a stent implantation and called the cardio-thoracic surgery team.
To reduce the risk of another cardiac arrest, Erickson also underwent surgery Michael Brunner, MD, an electrophysiologist, the one implantable cardioverter defibrillator under his collarbone. The defibrillator delivers a life-saving shock when Erickson develops another fatally fast heart rate.
One day while recovering, Erickson received a visit from a nurse who had heard Nickel’s story about saving the White Pine Trail. Talking to a colleague, she had linked Erickson to the story.
This nurse was Nickels’ mother-in-law, a long-time employee at the Fred and Lena Meijer Heart Center.
“So one day she came into his room and said, ‘Hey, you might not know me, but I know you,'” said Nickels. “‘My son-in-law was actually the one who did compressions when you collapsed on the bike path.'”
To show his gratitude, Erickson asked for Nickels’ phone number. Since then, the two men have been communicating – first by SMS, then by phone and finally in person.
“The whole thing just makes me crazy – just thinking about all the things that went perfectly together and how the good Lord put everyone in my life,” said Erickson.
He still chokes when he thinks about how events played out that day.
“(Tyler) was everything to me, he really was. CPR won’t start and I’m not here to be honest. … When I said to him, ‘You had to be the perfect person in the perfect place at the perfect time for me to be here.’ “
Kayla’s role in his rescue also provokes strong emotions.
“She rose and was a true hero,” he said. “I just can’t imagine exposing my child to anything like that. But she did it. … She was just amazing during the whole thing. “
Erickson’s ability to process his emotions contributed to his strong recovery.
“He processed this whole incident in a very healthy way,” said Dr. Negash. “He’s really used to the emotional part of getting well much faster than most of my patients – men and women.”
Erickson’s physical recovery has also come a quick path.
“When he walked into the clinic, the first time I saw him, I was expecting a completely different person. If you saw him in the waiting room, you’d assume he was driving someone else to his appointment. … I didn’t expect him to have bright eyes and bushy tails without any real discomfort. “
Erickson tells a similar story. His physiotherapists had to develop an individual training program to challenge him.
And during his 23-day hospital stay, staff kept telling him that his appearance did not match what was on his medical record.
“I say, ‘I don’t know what that means. … Everyone keeps coming back in and saying I don’t look like my diagram. Is that good or bad?’ And they looked at me and said, ‘Oh, it’s good.’ “
His story, Erickson said, was one of perfect timing, selfless heroes, loyal family members, and “phenomenal” medical staff.
“I couldn’t have been put into better hands.”
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