Cyndi Niezer will always remember her 41st birthday as the one that forever changed her life.
The vivacious Overland Park mother of three young children celebrated her big day on Monday, November 7, 2011 with her family. She returned home after sharing a meal at her favorite restaurant with her mother, father and sister and complained to her husband, Brad, that she wasn’t feeling well. He went next door and asked their neighbor Dan, a firefighter and EMT, to come over and take a look at Cyndi, whose condition was rapidly deteriorating.
“My ears, chest and jaw hurt terribly,” says Cyndi. “Dan took one look at me and told Brad to get me to a hospital.”
An anxious Brad rushed his wife to Menorah Medical Center, an Accredited Chest Pain Center, and its Emergency Department where she began to have seizures and vomit. John McEnroe, MD, an emergency physician, quickly took charge.
Cyndi was having a heart attack.
The next 25 minutes—the longest in Brad’s life, says Cyndi—were harrowing. Though Cyndi was unconscious and has no recollection of events on that Monday evening once she arrived at Menorah Medical Center, she woke up five days later to hear a miraculous story, pieced together by her husband, Dr. McEnroe and cardiologist Ujjaval M. Patel, MD, FACC.
“I was told that my heart stopped for nearly a half hour,” says Cyndi, who is fully recovered and back to being a full-time mom for her sons, ages 3 and 5, and 9-year-old daughter.
During that critical ticking of the clock, Dr. McEnroe defibrillated Cyndi five times in an effort to jumpstart her heart. Next, Dr. Patel—a cardiologist with Midwest Cardiology Associates, a Midwest Physicians practice—put in a stent and started Code ICE on Cyndi, an extensive cooling protocol approved by the American Heart Association. Code ICE gradually lowers the core body temperature from normal to less than 33 degrees Celsius.
“The internal cooling system rapidly, safely and effectively manages a patient’s core body temperature,” says Dr. Patel. “Code ICE helps provide more positive outcomes for individuals suffering a heart attack.”
During the stenting procedure, Dr. Patel discovered two blood clots blocking Cyndi’s artery. She emerged from surgery and what she calls her “big chill” with no neurological damage.
“Prior to this life-transforming incident, I thought I was healthy enough,” says Cyndi, who was removed from the Code ICE protocol three days following her admittance to Menorah Medical Center. “I realize now that enough wasn’t good enough.”
Cyndi, who has a genetic predisposition to heart disease, is a non-smoker and does not drink. Prior to her heart attack she exercised, but not regularly.
Cyndi, who credits Dr. Patel, the advanced technology of Code ICE, and the emergency department, intensive care unit, cath lab team and the other medical professionals who were at her side during the crisis with saving her life, is now a vigilant heart warrior. She checks her blood pressure twice daily, exercises three times a week, monitors her sodium intake, drinks more water and takes medications prescribed by Dr. Patel. She educates those around her of not just the warning signs and symptoms of a heart attack, but the importance of being an advocate for heart health.
“Go to your doctor and have your heart checked,” says Cyndi. “Don’t wait until you’re unconscious and your heart has stopped. Be proactive.”
Cyndi says the experience of hovering between life and death on her 41st birthday has given her the best gift possible: a vivid snapshot of her life.
“It’s special when I hear my children laugh, to know how my body works, to be able to drive a car, work out and feel my heart go fast and work hard,” says Cyndi.
And that beating heart, says Cyndi, is a constant and precise reminder of how precious life is.