“The folks at Saint Luke’s North did a job on me worth a million bucks” - Dan Verbeck
Veteran news reporter Dan Verbeck missed the biggest story of his life—his own death. Dan was enjoying retirement after a 40-year career of news reporting in Kansas City. He covered the collapse of the Hyatt Regency skywalk, Hurricane Katrina, and the Joplin tornado.
On June 6, 2016, disaster struck again—in his own arteries. He had driven from his home in the country to his daughter Kay’s apartment in North Kansas City to give her diabetic cat an insulin shot. Soon after arriving, he started to sweat and feel woozy. A band seemed to tighten around his stomach.
Dan’s first thought he was having a panic attack, which he’d had before. He called his wife, Sylvia Stucky, who was working at a video production agency nearby. She picked him up and suggested they go to Saint Luke’s North Hospital, only three miles away, to make sure it wasn’t a heart attack.
Two blocks from the hospital, Dan “growled like in a horror movie, clawed his hands, and went rigid,” Sylvia recalls. Then he collapsed into the passenger door.
“I think my husband just died in the car,” Sylvia told the security guard in the Emergency Department.
She was right. An electrocardiogram confirmed that he was in cardiac arrest and had no pulse.
According to the American Heart Association, there are 326,000 cardiac arrests in this country every year. Only about 10 percent survive.
While they freed the inert Verbeck from his seat belt, Marilyn Datillo, RN, initiated the cardiac arrest code that summoned a team of experts to revive him.
“This protocol has helped Saint Luke’s save more lives by hastening access to life-saving treatments,” says cardiologist Ashley Moser, DO, who oversaw Dan’s care. In cases of cardiac arrest, the protocol includes therapeutic hypothermia.
Chilling the patient down to 91.4 degrees slows down systems and minimizes permanent damage to the circulatory system. After his care team shocked Dan’s heart back to a rhythm with a defibrillator, Datillo started a saline drip of chilled saline drip and applied icepacks.
Cardiac-arrest patients who get hypothermic therapy are four times more likely to survive with a good outcome than those who don’t. As Dan chilled, an interventional cardiologist threaded a catheter to locate and remove blockages in his blood vessels. The doctor inserted two stents to keep his arteries open.
All this happened within 36 minutes of the ECG that confirmed the cardiac arrest, almost two-thirds less time than the national standard of 90 minutes.
“I felt like everybody at the hospital was concerned not just about Dan, but about me and our kids,” says Sylvia. Rev. Sally Baehni, the hospital chaplain, comforted her while Dan underwent treatment. “The doctors and nurses all introduced themselves by their first names. It made me feel like I was surrounded by caring neighbors.”
Sedation kept Dan comfortable and unaware for the 24 hours he was chilled. Sylvia and their kids, though, were all too aware. They talked about how differently things might have turned out if Dan had been home, more than 30 minutes from a hospital. They all worried about whether he had suffered brain damage.
As his care team slowly began to warm his body, Dan awoke and started interviewing caregivers, like the reporter he was. He grilled Marci Ebberts, RN, on the cooling treatment. She explained that his loss of short-term memory was common and transitory.
“When Marci said something, you could take it to the bank,” Dan says.
“Was I difficult a difficult patient?” he asked Marci. While many a source has cracked under his questions, she did not. She only smiled sweetly.
“Dr. Ashley sold me on her expertise and her savvy manner as well,” Dan recalls. He claims that she inspired both he and his wife to become regulars at a gym. Exercise was something he hadn’t done since getting out of the U. S. Army in 1967.
“The folks at Saint Luke’s North did a job on me worth a million bucks,” Dan concludes.
His only disappointment was that he didn’t experience any “tunnels, white lights, or verdant pastures.” However, he did have some flashbacks to his days as a reporter.
Happily ever after
“Having covered so many disasters, you have a sense of your own mortality by being around the life and death of others,” Dan says. “I always hoped that if I ever got in a jam, there would be competent people around me who would keep me among the living.”
Dan made a full recovery and six weeks later visited the competent people who saved his life to express his gratitude for giving the story of his life a happy ending.
Learn more about our care at Saint Luke's Mid America Heart Institute.