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Surviving a “Widow Maker”: Quick actions by NSMC cardiac team saves Marblehead man’s life
By Healthy Life 2010 Fall

It was a hot, sticky August morning, but Marblehead resident Scott MacAllister, 63, was not about to let the heat keep him from heading out for a run. He met up with longtime friend, Steve Flanagan, and the pair began their normal loop around Marblehead Neck. Running partners for more than 15 years, it didn’t take either of them long to notice something wasn’t right.

“Not even half way through our run I had to slow to a walk,” explained MacAllister. “I was having a lot of discomfort in my chest.” Soon after, MacAllister told Flanagan he couldn’t go any farther. “That’s about the last thing I remember,” said MacAllister.

Flanagan reacted immediately, sprinting down the causeway to get his car, then driving a slumped-over and unconscious MacAllister to Devereux Beach where a beach supervisor called 9-1-1. Flanagan started CPR and EMTs arrived two minutes later and began shocking MacAllister’s heart with a defibrillator. Once they restarted MacAllister’s heart, EMTs transported him to NSMC Salem Hospital.

MacAllister tells his story in this video
Marblehead man lives to tell

Howard Waldman, M.D., and his team were waiting in the NSMC catheterization lab before MacAllister even arrived at the hospital. “For the past seven years, we have been perfecting this routine with EMTs, emergency room nurses, and our own staff to make sure everyone knows the importance of getting heart attack patients to our catheterization lab quickly,” said Dr. Waldman, the interventional cardiologist at NSMC who performed a life-saving procedure on MacAllister. “This is exactly why we tell people to call 9-1-1, and not to try getting here on their own.”

North Shore Medical Center is home to the only comprehensive heart center on the North Shore, with fully integrated cardiac services including angioplasty (percutaneous coronary intervention) and advanced cardiac surgery. “As a physician, I’m amazed that Mr. MacAllister is alive,” said Dr. Waldman. “The main artery going to the left side of his heart was completely blocked. In my 25 years of treating heart attacks, I’ve never seen a patient survive one so massive.”

Dr. Waldman inserted a stent into the blocked artery and restored blood flow to the heart. Once the blood was flowing again, he placed a balloon pump inside the heart to stabilize it. At this point, doctors initiated a ‘cooling protocol,’ moving MacAllister to the intensive care unit and lowering his body temperature to 91.4 degrees for 24 hours.

“We had no idea how long the interruption in blood flow had deprived his brain of oxygen,” explains Dr. Waldman. “This cooling process protects the brain from further injuries.”

The next day doctors warmed MacAllister’s body up and performed basic neurological tests. Those tests showed his brain was fully functional. The next step was triple-bypass heart surgery to restore proper blood flow in three of his arteries. MacAllister spent a few more days recovering from the surgery before he could go home. For now, MacAllister is taking things easy, spending some quality time with wife, Mary. While he hopes to get back into running again soon, he says he is not going to rush it.