EXCHANGE: Doctor saved after collapsing at fitness center

By Paul Swiech(bloomington) Pantagraph, Associated Press | Posted - Jan. 7, 2016 at 8:21 p.m.


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DOWNS, Ill. (AP) — Dr. Bill and Kathy Neil sat side by side on the couch in their Downs home.

"I'm feeling overwhelmingly grateful," Kathy Neil said Dec 21. "I could have easily been a widow. Instead, I have my husband back."

Bill Neil, a healthy 59-year-old man and long-time family physician, was exercising when he suffered sudden cardiac arrest — meaning his heart stopped — on Dec. 11.

But because of quick work of a Four Seasons Health Club member and staff, followed by appropriate medical treatment, Neil recovered in time for Christmas.

"I'm just really glad that I was exercising where there are trained people," Neil said. "If I had been exercising at home, I'd be dead right now."

"The save at Four Seasons is an incredible example of the positive outcome a victim can have when an organization implements a CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) and AED (automated external defibrillator) program," said Carrie Skogsberg of the American Heart Association.

Ninety percent of people who suffer out-of-hospital cardiac arrests die, Skogsberg said. CPR, especially if performed immediately, can double or triple a person's chance of survival.

"If no one had known how to help, this patient's outcome could have been very different," Skogsberg said.

Neil, a family physician for 31 years, is with OSF Medical Group-College Avenue. He volunteers two weeks a year at a clinic in Haiti; has delivered medical presentations in Vladimir, Russia; volunteers at the Community Health Care Clinic in Normal; serves on the OSF Medical Group Governing Council; and received the 2012 Distinguished Service Award from the Illinois Academy of Family Physicians.

He and his wife exercise regularly.

"I felt fine," Bill Neil said. He does have an abnormality of the mitral valve — the valve that keeps blood flowing between the left chambers of the heart — but it never gave him trouble.

He was on a recumbent bike at Four Seasons II, 2401 Airport Road, Bloomington, at 6:10 a.m. Dec. 11 when he collapsed.

Mary Beth Burger, a nurse with Advocate Heart Institute who is certified in CPR and advanced cardiac life support, was exercising nearby. She checked Neil's pulse and found none. His breathing was minimal.

"I told someone to get an AED and started CPR," Burger recalled.

Mikey Shea, Four Seasons' manager on duty who is trained in CPR and AED use, took over chest compressions as Burger did rescue breaths. Another member got Kathy Neil, who was exercising elsewhere in the building.

"We did four rounds of CPR and AED defibrillation before the paramedics got there," Shea said. "He had labored breathing and a weak, irregular, fluttery pulse."

Paramedics took over.

"I thought his outlook was bleak. I didn't feel like I did enough," Burger said, fighting back tears. "But we did the best we could."

"I kept expecting him to come around but he didn't come around," Kathy Neil said.

He was taken to OSF St. Joseph Medical Center, where he was given medication and his heart resumed beating on its own. Tests determined that he had no blockage and no brain abnormality.

Neil said he had ventricular fibrillation, apparently caused by the mitral valve abnormality. The lower chambers of the heart had been quivering and not pumping enough blood, causing cardiac arrest.

Using therapeutic hypothermia, his body was cooled to reduce cell death and protect his brain. On Dec. 13, his body was re-warmed and Neil responded well to several tests.

"We had our Bill back but they still had to figure out what to do for treatment," his wife said.

Neil was taken to OSF Saint Francis Medical Center, Peoria, where an electrophysiologist implanted in his chest a cardiac defibrillator with a pacemaker.

"What happened was a freak thing," Neil said. "It may never happen again. But if it does, the defibrillator will bring my heart back to a normal rhythm."

Neil is sore and fatigued but in good spirits, looking forward to returning to work next month and to exercise as soon as he's given the OK.

Neil wants people to get trained in CPR and AED use and to appreciate time with family and friends.

Shea said "I picked up that shift (at Four Seasons). I wasn't supposed to be working that day. It was like I was supposed to be there. I couldn't be more thankful."

"It didn't make sense that he survived," Burger said. "It was definitely a miracle.

"Now he (Neil) can save a lot more lives himself."

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Source: The (Bloomington) Pantagraph, http://bit.ly/1OX2yFr

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Information from: The Pantagraph, http://www.pantagraph.com

This is an Illinois Exchange story shared by The (Bloomington) Pantagraph.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Paul Swiech(bloomington) Pantagraph

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