If you are on Facebook, you may already know about what happened to my husband. I have put off writing about it because I was not yet ready to relive the worst day of my life, but this very scary story contains an important warning that I feel I need to share as soon as possible. I don’t want what we experienced to happen to anyone else.
I thought the life I knew was over early Friday morning on October 28. My husband, Dean, got up complaining of chest pains, but he had none of the classic symptoms of a heart attack so we didn’t think it was anything serious. After a while he started to feel a little better and decided to come back to bed. I turned off the light and snuggled up to him because he said he was cold. I don’t know if I went to sleep or not, but I remember hearing a few gurgling sounds that I somehow recognized as not normal. When I turned the light back on, his eyes were open and he was not breathing. I somehow managed to dail 911 without my glasses. A woman’s voice told me to unlock the front door and then get him on the floor. I couldn’t lift him, so I pulled him off the bed and tried to break his fall. She told me how to do CPR and had me count each compression aloud to be sure I got the timing right. “Faster,” she said, “you have to go faster.” There was no response. I put the phone on speaker mode and said, “I’m losing him…tell them to hurry!” He made three slight gasps during the whole time I was doing compressions that gave me hope that he was still alive.
After what seemed like an eternity, the paramedics rushed in and took over. They asked me to hold the IV bag while they took turns doing manual CPR. Another team of paramedics arrived a little later. They worked on him for over an hour, maybe two, trying to get his heart to beat so they could transport him to the ER. I lost count of how many epi-pens and paddle shocks they used, but at one point, the team leader said they had maxed out the number they could give him and there was no point in trying more. When I asked what his chances were, he said, “I don’t want to give you false hope. It’s bad, really bad.”
They eventually got him loaded into the emergency vehicle and headed for the hospital. I put on my pants and shoes and called my daughter who came up and we followed in her car. I called my son who booked a flight for the next day, but after we got to the hospital, the cardiologist told me to call him back and tell him to come now, that tomorrow would be too late. He cancelled his flight and caught another one that got him here that evening. Although the order of events is now somewhat blurred in my memory, I remember being asked at one point if I would consent to a “do not resuscitate” order. When I asked about his chances, they told me it didn’t look promising but “sometimes we get a miracle.” I’m sure they were trying to give us some comfort, but the cardiologist told me later that the survival rate in such cases was 1%.
After the ER doctors completed the diagnostic tests, they moved Dean to the Intensive Care Unit. The room was lit up like a Christmas tree with flashing lights, beeping alarms, and he was attached to all sorts of monitors, tubes, and hoses. They cooled him down to 33 degrees C for 24 hours and kept him in a coma. Then they slowly warmed him up for 12 hours before attempting to wake him up. We wouldn’t know the extent of the damage for another day or two, but he was alive so we continued to cling to hope.
It turned out he had not had a heart attack at all–he had no clots or blockages and his arteries were not damaged. A brain scan showed no swelling or bleeding, which they found surprising after such a serious event. The only possible cause they found for the heart stoppage was a low potassium level. When I asked what caused his potassium to be low, several of the doctors and the hospital’s pharmacist said the likely culprit was his blood pressure medication.
I was impressed with the paramedics and the hospital personnel and thought they were doing a fantastic job of caring for my husband. They were kind, professional, and efficient, and they used the latest advances in emergency treatments and equipment. I have no doubt they saved his life in those first few hours, but it was a rude awakening when I found out what is in some of the drip bags and the feeding tube.
They were giving him intravenous glucose, insulin, and a statin along with about 40 other drips on two huge, multi-tiered racks across the room that almost blocked the doorway. When I explained that we ate a low-carb, high-fat diet and that Dean was insulin resistant and fat adapted, the nurse tried to reassure me that he was getting some fat through his feeding tube–but it was soy oil. I asked to speak to the dietician, who bought me an ingredients list for the mixture they were giving him. The main ingredient was corn sugar. I said, “This is just processed junk.” She said, “I know, but there are only two formulas that I am allowed to use.” The other formula also listed corn sugar as the main ingredient, but it had some MCT oil in it; of course the hospital insisted that she use only the very low-fat, low-salt, high-carb version for heart patients. Their standard protocols employed near-miraculous emergency treatments, like the cold therapy that was pioneered here in Seattle, to save lives, but they lose 99% of the patients anyway because of their outdated dietary beliefs. I had come face to face with the shocking reality of our current medical establishment: a dichotomy of high-tech, life-saving treatments combined with nutrition advice based on faulty epidemiological research from the 1950s. They are so deeply invested in fat-phobia and the diet-heart hypothesis of heart disease and that they have rigid rules in place to insure that the dogma is enforced.
I tried my best to convince the cardiologist on duty to at least give him some MCT oil that would nourish his brain in spite of all the sugar he was getting, but to no avail. She said, “I am a cardiologist, I would NEVER do that.” She said they have their tried and proven methods and can’t experiment. She also said she wouldn’t know how to do it anyway.
I have never felt so powerless and frustrated in my life. I knew how important those first few hours could be when dealing with brain trauma. Dave Asprey was among the many experts and doctors who offered their advice in response to my plea for help on Facebook; he told me what he gave his father in a similar situation, but I was helpless to do anything unless the hospital staff would allow it. What option did I have? There was no way I could move him somewhere else in his condition, even if I knew of a place that used different methods, which probably didn’t exist. Even some friends and family members were telling me there was nothing I could do and that I should just calm down and let them do what they do; meanwhile the time ticked by. I didn’t know if he would live long enough to come home where he could get what he needed to heal his heart and preserve his brain. Even though I didn’t think he could hear me, I kept telling him, “Please just come back; we can fix this.”
The first cardiologist I spoke to in ICU was the least receptive to any input. I persisted and eventually found two others as the hospital’s shifts changed who were more open. One of them (I’ll call him, Dr. G.) said his field of expertise was lipids. He knew what I was talking about when I said the brain functions better on ketones than sugar, especially for those who are insulin resistant. I told him about new research that was showing the diet-heart hypothesis to be flawed and that we need a lot of natural fat, including saturated fat. He said, yes, he had been hearing a lot about that lately. He agreed with me on some issues but stuck firmly to the current “standard of care” on others. I gave him some articles that I had printed out and he agreed to read them. He also agreed to make some of the changes that I requested and one other doctor did as well. They switched Dean to the feeding formula that contained MCT oil and added Co-Q10 and they took away the statin, which would have blocked his brain and heart from getting essential nutrients, saying that he didn’t need it anyway.
After reading the ingredients in the feeding formula they were using, I concluded that the hospital’s policy was to not spend a dime for anything they could get for a nickel, so I asked if they could use a higher quality MCT oil, like the 8-chain, Brain Octane Oil I put in my coffee every morning. Dr. G. gave his approval, but said it would first have to be added to the hospital’s pharmacy and he would have to find out where to get it. I said, “It’s in my purse.” I gave him my bottle and the pharmacist put a label on it and sent it to the ICU where the nurses added it to Dean’s medications. He was still being pumped full of sugar, but I didn’t want to press my luck on that issue for fear the helpful doctors’ orders would be overruled or they would be censured and those in charge would revert back to the standard treatment for heart patients. I was lucky to have found two doctors who were willing to break the rules for me, and I will be forever grateful to them.
On Sunday, they made their first attempt to get Dean off some of the life support. It didn’t go well and they had to put him back on. They tried again later that day and the second time it worked. In the meantime, he had started getting the MCT formula plus the Brain Octane Oil. Coincidence? Maybe, maybe not. He moved his toe and squeezed the nurse’s hand when she told him to. The doctor asked him if he was in pain and he shook his head, “no,” prompting tears and hugs all around. There was hope.
By Monday, the 31st, he was talking a little and even smiling at us. He drifted in and out of consciousness and asked repeatedly about what was wrong with him, but didn’t remember what we told him. He was still on potent pain killers that probably made things seem worse than they were, but he had 12 broken ribs from the CPR and a very sore and swollen throat from the big breathing tube they had just removed.
There is an African proverb that says, “When an old man dies, a library burns down.” Many people, including me, depended on all the knowledge stored in Dean’s remarkable mind. I wondered aloud to my son about why all the nurses wore such squeaky shoes. I didn’t know Dean was awake until he said, “Their shoes have anti-static soles because they work around oxygen.” Yes, that was my husband! He was still there! The next time the nurse checked his short-term memory by asking what year it was, he said, “The year the Cubs won the pennant.” They quit asking after that.
Surviving the hospital food was almost as big a challenge as surviving the heart stoppage. Seriously! The dietician had told me that once he started getting real food, I could bring in some things from home. They needed to be sure he could swallow before they removed the feeding tube (aka the sugar delivery system), so they started by giving him a few spoonfuls of syrupy liquids (even the water was thickened). When I had a chance to go home, I made some tastier things for him that contained good, natural fats. I bought a pate of foie gras and mixed it with bone broth to make soup and I made a thin chocolate pudding that contained good, natural fats. The nurse on duty allowed me to give him a spoonful or two of each. But the next day brought a different nurse who was on to me. She asked if what I had in my cooler was low-fat and low-salt, which of course it wasn’t, so that was the end of that.
Dean said the hospital food was so bad, he could hardly swallow it: pureed lean chicken breast with no salt and no fat; liquefied turkey meatballs; and worst of all, liquid broccoli. Even the yogurt, which he normally loves, was terrible. This probably explains why low-fat diets sometimes seem to show positive results—they are really just enforced fasts. Dr. Walter Kempner, creator of the Rice Diet, had to beat his patients to make them stick to his regimen. (1) They told Dean he couldn’t go home until he proved that he could eat enough calories for them to take out the feeding tube and they carefully watched and made note of how much he ate. He literally gagged down every last bite they served him because he wanted so badly to get out of there!
He had a pacemaker/defibrillator put in on Friday and they planned to release him on Tuesday. He was doing so well that they moved it to Monday and skipped the customary three- to five-day stint in rehab. One nurse told me they were referring to him around the hospital as Superman.
After six days in Intensive Care and a total of 11 days in the hospital, he was released. He now has a computer implanted in his chest that monitors his heart rhythm, reports any irregularities, and delivers shocks if needed. He also came home with nine new prescriptions, which scared me to death since it was a medication that he was taking that almost killed him.
At his one-week post-hospital appointment with the cardiologist, we passed very ill patients in wheelchairs being lifted out of vans as we came into the building and I thought, “There, but for the grace of God….” Dean walked in unassisted, filled out all the paperwork, and was joking with the receptionists just like always. We got mostly good news. The doctor removed two of the new meds and cut two others in half. He is stuck forever with the electronic paraphernalia and his heart beat was still a little wonky, but his memory and personality are 100% back and the doctor was amazed by his progress.
I asked Dr. G, who is now his personal cardiologist, if we needed to do anything to prevent his potassium from going so low again. He said, “If he stays off that drug, he will be fine.” To think that he went through all this because his GP gave him a drug to prevent heart attacks!! What a crazy world we live in.
The blood pressure medication Dean had taken for 20 years was hydrochlorothiazide. It is the most commonly prescribed medication for blood pressure, not because it is safe or effective, but because it is the one insurance companies choose to pay for! Below is an eye-opening quote from an article sent to me by a reader. (Thanks, Joan.)
“In an article published in Postgraduate Medicine, Saint Luke’s Mid America Heart Institute, leading cardiovascular research scientist, James J. DiNicolantonio, Pharm.D., and cardiologist James H. O’Keefe, M.D., examined some of the most commonly prescribed blood pressure medications and their effectiveness in reducing heart attacks and mortality versus a placebo. In many instances, the research revealed that often the most popular medications are not only not the best, in many instances they are not any more effective than a placebo or may actually cause harm….The most commonly prescribed thiazide diuretic in the United States is hydrochlorothiazide, with more than 1 million people receiving a prescription in 2008. However, this medication increased cardiovascular death and coronary heart disease compared to both the placebo and control in two clinical trials. Alternatively, only 25,000 people received a prescription for chlorthalidone in 2008, even though this medication consistently demonstrated significant reductions in heart attacks and strokes compared to placebo….Currently there is no universal rating system in the United States where medications can be selected by clinicians based upon their effectiveness. Rather, insurance companies ‘pay for performance’ or ‘pay for service,’ but this does not guarantee the selection of effective medications.’”
Read the full article here: http://www.prweb.com/releases/2014/11/prweb12291899.htm.
Low potassium is the first side effect listed for hydrochlorothiazide and doctors who prescribe it are advised to check blood levels and recommend potassium supplements. Dean’s doctor checked his potassium once a year and never mentioned a supplement. Both low and high potassium can kill you. (Veterinarians use potassium to euthanize dogs.) I have heard from many people who have had similar events linked to this drug as well as others. If you or a family member has had a bad experience with a medication, please report it. If you don’t know the exact answer to some of the questions, make your best guess, but do report it! Here is the number and the website to file a report with the FDA: FDA 1 800 FDA 1088 or http://www.fda.gov/med watch
MSN Lifestyle news reported:
A recent federal study found that about one in 250 Americans, and about one in 100 American adults 65 and older, were sent to the hospital emergency room every year due to medication-related health issues…over the two-year study period, about 1.3 million ER visits for adverse drug events occurred each year. (2)
1. Some details about the Rice Diet became public after a one of Dr. Kempner’s patients sued him, alleging that he whipped her bare buttocks with a riding crop when she violated his strict rules. Kempner said he thought the risk to his patients’ lives was so great that it warranted such harshness. http://www.foxnews.com/health/2013/09/10/rice-diet-shuts-down-north-carolina-home-after-70-years.html).
2. MSN report: http://www.msn.com/en-us/health/medical/medicines-that-have-been-sending-countless-americans-to-the-er/vi-AAkCYXU?ocid=spartandhp
Image of hydrochlorothizide molecule above from Wikipedia.
(c) 2016, Judy Barnes Baker