NORWALK, Connecticut, October 3, 2018 — Todd Boe of Norwalk, Connecticut, knew he had a heart condition called dilated cardiomyopathy, which affects his heart’s ability to pump blood effectively. But for the past several years he had been living with his condition successfully.
That’s why, on the evening of July 6, 2018, the fit and active 53-year-old had no reason to suspect that his plans for a casual family dinner would be interrupted, and certainly not by a life-threatening cardiac event.
However, within 15 minutes of arriving at his dinner destination, Mr. Boe suddenly collapsed. His family members immediately called 911 — and when they realized that Mr. Boe was not breathing and had no pulse, they followed the 911 dispatcher’s instructions and began performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).
Mr. Boe was experiencing sudden cardiac arrest. His heart stopped beating, and without immediate treatment, his chances of survival were diminishing quickly. And, because Mr. Boe’s heart stopped beating, his brain was not getting the oxygen it needed. That means that even if Mr. Boe survived, he would be at risk for cognitive deficits, such as memory and attention problems.
But by knowing what to do and taking immediate action, Mr. Boe’s family members kicked off a series of life-saving interventions and events that led to Mr. Boe’s survival — as well as his complete recovery.
First Responders Arrive on the Scene
Just minutes after Mr. Boe collapsed Officer Jose Silva from the Norwalk Police Department arrived on the scene and took over for the family members who were performing CPR.
Within a few minutes, Norwalk Fire Department Engine 5 also arrived on the scene and continued to provide life-saving care.
“When I arrived on the scene, Mr. Boe was on the floor in the dining room,” said Lieutenant Scott Rywolt of the Norwalk Fire Department’s Engine 5. “Police were already on the scene performing CPR. I assessed Mr. Boe’s condition and couldn’t find a carotid pulse.”
Because he could not find a pulse and saw that Mr. Boe was showing signs of an abnormal breathing pattern called agonal gasps, Lt. Rywolt and his team continued CPR and connected an automated external defibrillator (AED). The AED detected a shockable rhythm and prompted Lt. Rywolt and his team to deliver a shock. Lt. Rywolt and his team then continued CPR until paramedics from Norwalk Hospital EMS arrived.
Norwalk Hospital EMS began Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS) and administered two additional shocks and a cardioversion to restore Mr. Boe’s heart rhythm. Norwalk Hospital EMS paramedics — accompanied by two firefighters from Engine 5 — transported Mr. Boe to Norwalk Hospital’s Emergency Department (ED).
“I kept thinking, ‘He’s young. He’s got a good chance,’” Lt. Rywolt said.
Comprehensive Care at Norwalk Hospital
Only minutes after the initial 911 call, Mr. Boe arrived in the Norwalk Hospital ED. The first responders successfully resuscitated Mr. Boe in the field, so the ED team started supportive measures to help stabilize his condition. “This kind of collaborative response is the standard of care and makes our job in the Emergency Department that much easier because everyone is working together to save a life,” said Norwalk Hospital’s Chairman of Emergency Medicine.
Mr. Boe was transferred to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) at Norwalk Hospital. Meanwhile, the ED team reached out to Mr. Boe’s primary cardiology team to learn more about his health history.
The ED team learned that Mr. Boe was being treated for dilated cardiomyopathy at the time of his cardiac event. It was now clear that Mr. Boe needed to have surgery to insert an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD) to prevent future cardiac events as soon as he was well enough.
A Tense Wait
When Mr. Boe was transferred to the ICU, he was on a ventilator with a breathing tube. To reduce the chances that he would sustain brain damage, Mr. Boe was treated with a procedure called therapeutic hypothermia, which involved lowering his body temperature while he was under sedation.
Because he was under sedation and unresponsive, Mr. Boe’s family — including his children, Lily, age 24, and Andrew, age 22 — experienced a tense wait during the treatment. Although Mr. Boe had survived his cardiac event, his family members were worried that he might have significant cognitive deficits that could affect his quality of life.
When Mr. Boe was rewarmed and taken off the ventilator, his family members were soon relieved to learn that he experienced no cognitive deficits — a remarkable outcome.
The Right Cardiologist at the Right Time
While Mr. Boe continued to recover in the hospital, Lily decorated his hospital room with familiar items from his favorite college sports team, Villanova University, which is located just outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Lily is a graduate of Villanova University.
Michael Pittaro, MD, a Norwalk Hospital cardiologist who graduated from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine in Philadelphia, was doing his rounds when he happened to notice the Villanova items on display in Mr. Boe’s hospital room. Mr. Boe was not Dr. Pittaro’s patient, but with Philadelphia-area universities in common, the two had no trouble starting a conversation.
Mr. Boe had been planning to have his primary cardiologist perform the ICD implantation at another hospital. But after his chance meeting with Dr. Pittaro, Mr. Boe decided to have Dr. Pittaro perform his ICD surgery at Norwalk Hospital instead. Dr. Pittaro is now Mr. Boe’s primary cardiologist.
Teamwork Creates a Happy Outcome
After a six-day hospital stay, Mr. Boe was discharged from the Norwalk Hospital with a new ICD that will help to prevent future cardiac events. And perhaps most remarkably of all, Mr. Boe has zero cognitive deficits.
Mr. Boe’s survival and recovery are due, in large part, to the pre-hospital care he received from the first responders in our community. “Officer Silva’s training and decisive action helped start the chain of survival for Mr. Boe. We are happy that we were there to help,” said Lieutenant Terry Blake of the Norwalk Police Department.
Lt. Rywolt, who said he has seen many similar situations as a first responder, agreed that everyone pulled together and did their part.
“From Mr. Boe’s family to  dispatch, to the police officer who was first on the scene, to fire officers and the paramedics, to the staff at the hospital — everything unfolded exactly the way it should,” Lt. Rywolt said. “Everyone is well-trained and knows what they’re doing. We work well together. And, timing is everything.”
Mr. Boe, who recently celebrated his 54th birthday with his family, couldn’t agree more. “I’m grateful for all the care I received,” said Mr. Boe. “I was definitely at the right place at the right time.”
Raising Awareness of Sudden Cardiac Arrest
Mr. Boe is getting back to his normal routine at his job at a software company — and as a father of two young adults. But after his experience, he said he views life differently.
“When I was in the hospital, I had a room with an amazing view of Norwalk. When I watched the sunrise outside my hospital window, I looked at it as my new opportunity,” Mr. Boe said.
Going forward, Mr. Boe plans to use his new opportunity to raise awareness about sudden cardiac arrest.
“The survival rate is not good, but it could be improved if more people were trained in CPR. That is what saved me,” said Mr. Boe.
Lt. Rywolt agreed that quality CPR is key.
“When people start CPR right away, patients have a much better chance of survival,” said Lt. Rywolt. “In Mr. Boe’s case, his family starting CPR, having a police officer in the area, and short response times from all first responders – combined with the care at the hospital — enabled him to make a full recovery.”
Thanks to the care from the first responders and hospital staff, all the links in Mr. Boe’s chain of survival were strong. It’s a privilege for our community to have such excellent first responders who work seamlessly with hospital staff and provide high-quality care to patients on a daily basis.
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