CRYSTAL CITY, MO -- Lance Carter's pole vault record still stands at Crystal City High School. Thirty years ago, he was nationally ranked in the decathlon with the Jefferson County Jets Track Club, but he has never run a 5K race.
While lying in a hospital bed last month, he decided a 3.1-mile race was his goal. He plans to be ready for the Color Run in St. Louis on April 26, but these days he is logging miles in the Mercy Cardiac Rehabilitation program.
Lance was on duty at the River Cement facility on Monday, February 3. For nearly an hour after his lunch he knew he didn't feel quite right, but he kept convincing himself that he wasn't having a heart attack. Finally, the 51-year-old drove himself to the hospital emergency room rather than the preferred protocol of calling 911 for an ambulance.
"I guess I was a little panicked. I had finally accepted the fact that I was having a heart attack, so I didn't think I could wait any longer for someone to come and get me," Lance said. "When I got to the emergency room, I went to the desk and told them I thought I was having a heart attack. They rushed me into triage. They had trouble getting the EKG pads to stick to my chest, because I was sweating so much."
Convinced by his symptoms and the data they were receiving that he was having a Myocardial Infarction, the emergency room team rushed Lance to a room where they took a blood sample for laboratory analysis, and the STEMI team was activated.
"In a few minutes they were running me in the bed down the hall to the cardiac cath lab," he said.
The elapsed time from when he arrived at the emergency room to his arrival in the cardiac cath lab was 26 minutes, said cath lab manager Jason Civey. The medical standard is to get heart attack patients from first medical contact to restored blood flow is less than 90 minutes.
Images showed cardiac cath lab medical director Bassam Roukoz, MD, that Lance needed two stents. One of Lance's arteries was 100 percent blocked. Just before the first stent was placed, Lance's heart stopped beating. The cardiac cath lab staff and doctor immediately began cardiopulmonary resuscitation, and then used an external defibrillator to shock his heart back to rhythm.
Once his heart was beating again, the stent was deployed and blood flow was restored to his heart, Roukoz said. Lance was admitted to the Intensive Care Unit and then to cardiopulmonary acute care on the second floor.
With good blood flow through his opened artery and a determination to exercise, Lance was recovering rapidly. Two days after his first stent, he returned to the cath lab where interventional cardiologist Dr. Souheil Khoukaz opened the other 80 percent occlusion. He placed the second stent through an artery in Lance's right wrist.
"When I got to the acute care floor I started walking. Then on Wednesday evening, after my second stent, I was walking around the floor again," Lance said. "Thursday, I walked some more until it was time to get discharged. I can tell you it's exactly 200 steps to walk around that whole floor. There are 2,000 steps in a mile, so you have to do 10 laps for a mile."
That commitment to regular exercise and a healthy diet have been trademark activities.
"My dad passed away at the age of 29 from heart disease," Lance said. "Like Dr. Roukoz told me, 'You can't beat heredity.' I do try to eat right, and I have been taking a baby aspirin a day for 10 or 15 years."
Lance praises the team he has in his corner that got him back on his feet. In the emergency room, cardiac cath lab, the ICU, the second floor, and now in cardiac rehabilitation, Lance said he found dedicated and caring staff.
"I was in a lot of different parts of the hospital in four days. There are so many people that were part of me getting to where I am now. That is my motivation for telling my story. I just want to say thank you to everybody," Lance said. "The local hospital sometimes gets a bad rap, people say you have to go to the big city. I know for a fact that I couldn't have received better care any where in the country."
Statistics support Lance's claim. In the most recent rankings from CareChex Quality Rating System, Mercy Hospital Jefferson ranks 54th on the nation and third in the state of Missouri for cardiac care. With a percentile ranking of 98.4, the Crystal City hospital is rated among the top two percent nationally.
"We are actually just a few decimal points from top 1 percent. We don't say that to brag but to show our dedication to excellence," Dr. Roukoz said. "The key for a good outcome in a heart attack is to get to the cath lab as soon as possible."
Lance continues his road to recovery in the cardiac rehabilitation program at Mercy Jefferson. He walks three to five miles each day, and he will add running to his regiment as rehabilitation continues and he builds strength for his plan to run a 5K race.
"I wanted to have a goal. I told the rehab team unless you tell me it's going to kill me, I'm going to do it," he said.
A maintenance supervisor at River Cement south of Festus, Lance has returned to work, and he continues his visits to the Mercy outpatient rehab gym where his heart rate and other vital signs are monitored during his workouts.
"Don't believe it can't happen to you. As far as I know I never had one warning sign. I went from zero to heart attack in minutes," Lance said. "I got a second chance. I am grateful to everyone at Mercy, to God and to my family who helped me through it all."