Minutes Before His Heart Stopped, He Knew What To Do: Would You?

jimmy brothers heart attack story

Jimmy Brothers, Battalion Chief in EMS Operations for the Howard County Department of Fire and Rescue Services

I don’t smoke. I am not overweight. I exercise regularly and eat pretty healthy. But on April 26, 2015 at the age of 46, my heart stopped.

It was a Sunday, and I woke up feeling like I was getting a cold. Not sure I can describe it exactly—I just didn’t feel well. I took some cold medicine and headed out with my family to coach my daughter’s lacrosse game.

On the way home from the game, the elephant arrived and was sitting on my chest. The pain was crushing and shooting down my arm. I was sweating and nauseated. As the Battalion Chief in EMS Operations for the Howard County Department of Fire and Rescue Services (HCDFRS), I knew the symptoms. I was having a heart attack.

My wife was driving, and I realized we were so close to the Elkridge Fire Station. I told her to call to see if the ambulance was there, which, thank goodness, it was. The ambulance crew was waiting outside when we pulled up to the station. I took two steps out of the car and collapsed onto the gurney as they attached a 12-lead EKG to get a reading of my heart. As they hit ‘send’ on the unit to transmit my EKG to Howard County General Hospital, my heart stopped.

I don’t remember going unconscious. The paramedics, one who I had trained, did high performance CPR and shocked my heart back into rhythm.


See Jimmy Brothers’ Story

When my wife Becky arrived at the HCGH Emergency Department, I was already headed to the cardiac catheterization lab where they were waiting for me. The cardiac catheterization showed a 100 percent blockage in the left anterior descending (LAD) artery—a condition sometimes referred to as ‘the widow maker.’ I was given a clot-dissolving medication and a stent was inserted to hold the artery open.

The irony of my story is that, in my role with HCDFRS, I had worked with HCGH to bring much of the cardiac technology and protocols to the county—a system that nearly 10 years later saved my life.

As a part of this unique partnership, paramedics are provided with advanced cardiac training at the HCDFRS Education & Training Section by HCGH cardiologists. In addition, HCDFRS ambulances are equipped with technology that can wirelessly transmit EKG data to HCGH cardiologists and emergency physicians in real time. In the event of a diagnosed heart attack, like I had, the hospital can assemble the cardiac catheterization team before the patient arrives—saving valuable time and, in turn, heart muscle. The gold standard of time to open an artery (often referred to as door-to-balloon time) is no more than 90 minutes from the time the patient enters the hospital’s door. My time was only 38 minutes because I recognized the signs and got help quickly.

The earlier that lifesaving care can be started, the less time the heart muscle is deprived of blood and oxygen which causes the heart to work harder, possibly leading to dangerous cardiac rhythms as was the case with me. This is often followed by cardiac arrest.

Once the heart stops beating, there is only a matter of minutes to get it started again.

Fortunately, my heart attack didn’t leave Becky a widow, but I do have some heart damage. I attended HCGH cardiac rehabilitation for several months and am feeling good.

I encourage everyone to learn CPR so that, if a loved one has a heart attack, you know what to do. If you know CPR, download this free app and follow HCDFRS so you can be notified if someone near your location in Howard County is having a cardiac emergency. The app also will alert you of Automated External Defibrillators (AEDs) close by.

Most important, call 911 if you think you or a loved one is having a heart attack so you can receive emergency cardiac care quickly. Do not wait, and do not drive to the hospital.

James Brothers is the Battalion Chief in EMS Operations for Howard County Department of Fire and Rescue Services (HCDFRS).