Doug's Story

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Doug's Story




They call it a widow-maker heart attack because it usually leads to sudden death. Three years ago, Doug Nelson was warming up for his regular squash game at Kennedy Club Fitness when it happened. He was just 50 years old, healthy and active when a tiny piece of plaque flaked off in his artery and blocked the passage to his heart. There were no warning signs or symptoms. He just suddenly dropped to the floor and stopped breathing.

Luckily for Doug, Kennedy Club Fitness had an Automated External Defibrillator (AED). The front desk clerk, Jake, was a part-time emergency medical technician and knew how to use it. Two other people at the gym, a lifeguard and an orthodontist, also took turns performing CPR on Doug. They kept Doug alive long enough for the paramedics to arrive and continue the life-saving techniques while taking him to French Hospital.

By the time Doug arrived by ambulance at French Hospital, he was hanging on by a thread. But the cardiac team was ready for him. Within minutes, he was in the Catheterization and Interventional Laboratory (Cath Lab) with doctors who opened the blockage to his artery, and soon he was in the ICU. It took them just about 29 minutes in the Cath Lab to save his life.

With his wife Kathy by his side, he remained under close observation in the ICU. “I had so much support from family and friends, and the support from the hospital was incredible,” Kathy said of her experience. “The staff and nurses at French Hospital were so wonderful. We formed a tight-knit bond.”



While Doug was in FHMC’s care, the doctors used a device called the Thermogard to rapidly, safely and effectively manage his core body temperature to a degree of precision that has never been seen before.

Acquired through donations to the FHMC Foundation, the Thermogard XP for Intravascular Temperature Management (IVTM) is a state-of-the-art medical device that can help limit the potential damage to the brain, tissue and other organs in critically ill patients suffering from cardiac arrest. Understanding its life-saving qualities, the hospital recently purchased a second Thermogard device from funds through the FHMC Foundation.

Doug awoke five days later, surprised and confused when he was told what had happened. But he was resilient. Within just two short months, he was back on a mountain bike and back to playing squash.

Without the heroic efforts of the people at Kennedy Club Fitness who helped keep Doug alive, the paramedics who transported him to the hospital, and the doctors and nurses at French Hospital who worked on his heart in the Cath Lab, Doug might not have survived.

In fact, because the fitness center had an AED on site, Doug lived long enough to make it to the hospital. That’s why French Hospital is partnering with the John W. Callahan Heart Safe Project, a local organization dedicated to establishing awareness, education and immediate access to AEDs throughout our community.

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French Hospital Medical Center
1911 Johnson Avenue
San Luis Obispo, CA 93401
(805) 543-5353