Survival story of a cardiac arrest victim walking to work

Gas is expensive. Cars carrying commuters add huge amounts of pollutants to our already dirty air. By walking to work, those hardy souls who leave the auto at home and hop into a pair of sneakers for the daily trip on foot are getting some valuable exercise and saving the planet, too. But for one 58-year-old Minneapolis resident, the 4-mile walk to work along the Mississippi River one day in 2008 could have been his last.

No doubt, Michael McKee thought he was in relatively good shape. Although he did not feel that walking to work would put his life in jeopardy, he did have hypertension and an elevated cholesterol level. Another risk factor was his family’s heart disease history. But since walking seems like such a benign activity, dealing with a sudden cardiac arrest was totally unexpected.

McKee does not recall the events of that fateful day when he literally passed away and was brought back to life. When the story was first recounted to him, he was under the impression that a doctor riding his bicycle to work had seen McKee collapse to the ground. Supposedly, that physician immediately began CPR as he awaited the arrival of an ambulance. Later McKee found out that no one had witnessed his cardiac arrest and that he had probably been on the ground for quite a while before the doctor’s arrival on scene and lifesaving measures were employed.

Apparently, two people were already standing around McKee when the doctor noticed the commotion, got off his bike and began CPR. Thanks to his valiant efforts, McKee was brought back from the dead. And another surprise revelation was that two physicians had actually pulled McKee back from the point of no return. A bystander who lives across the street from the site of the incident went into his home and got his houseguest, another doctor, to help.

When the ambulance arrived, EMTs needed to shock his heart several times in order to get an adequate rhythm going before transporting him to the Hennepin County Medical Center (Minnesota). Luckily, the incident had been reported as a witnessed cardiac arrest, the type with the best chance of complete recovery, and McKee received therapeutic hypothermia, a procedure that protects the brain from damage. That treatment involves placing ice bags and/or cold gel pads around the patient’s groin area and armpits and, when in the hospital, using a machine that cools down the body.

McKee spent more than a week in the hospital. Insertion of a stent addressed the cardiac blockage issue. He fine-tuned his diet and followed his cardiologist’s drug regime. Within 6 weeks of what could have been the end, McKee was back at work and able to walk about 5 miles a day. McKee is happy to be alive and has one message for firemen, other first responders and anyone who comes upon a cardiac arrest victim: never give up. Whether an incident is witnessed or not, employing CPR and keeping the victim cool saved McKee’s life and could save many, many more.


Pearl Salkin