RCH staff helps Rochelle man to survive, recover from heart attack

Rochelle Community Hospital Registered Nurse Heather James rode up to Rockford in an ambulance with Brett Martinson in October and helped to revive him in the midst of a heart attack.

‘It opened my eyes to a lot of things I took for granted’

ROCHELLE — On a Sunday in late October, Brett Martinson came home from breakfast with his family.

After sitting down and watching TV while his two small children played, he took a nap. He woke up and his arm was numb, and he had chest pain. He thought it was from sleeping awkwardly and his earlier breakfast, but those feelings didn’t go away. He started sweating profusely.

Martinson was having a heart attack.

His wife put the kids in the car and took him to the emergency room at Rochelle Community Hospital. Five minutes after arriving, he was transported by ambulance to OSF St. Anthony Medical Center in Rockford. Martinson remembers the first five minutes of that ride.

He coded twice on the way to the hospital and was revived by RCH Registered Nurse Heather James. 

“If it wasn't for her, I don't know if I would be here,” Martinson said “I have a hard time talking about it. My kids are seven and four. The last thing they saw that day was their dad struggling to get out of the car and go into the hospital. That could've been the last time they saw me.” 

The medical transport helicopter was not flying that day due to weather, James said. The critical care vehicle that would transport Martinson without a nurse was an hour away. Time was a factor, so James said she’d ride in the back of the ambulance with Martinson. 

At the beginning of the ride, Martinson was talking and “doing good,” James said. And then all of the sudden, he coded. James was able to get him to OSF St. Anthony with his pulse back. 

“It was intense,” James said. “Normally in the emergency room, you have the doctor that's saying what kind of care to give to somebody in a situation like that. In the back of the ambulance, I was the person that had to make those decisions. It just took me a second to get my mind straight and realize that. I was praying the whole time and just remembering what I'm supposed to do and thankfully I did. We have him now to show that it works.”

Martinson had a stent put in at OSF St. Anthony and woke up and started his recovery afterwards. He was 43 years old at the time. He’s 44 now. 

After a couple of days, Martinson asked a cardiologist why his heart attack happened. He was told he didn’t have high blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar or anything that would be a symptom of it. His heart had a 30 percent blockage, but action isn’t taken unless somebody has at least an 85 percent blockage, he said. 

“The cardiologist said, 'We're just going to chalk it up to bad luck.'” Martinson said. “I was like, 'How does that happen?' He said what happened was, a piece of that plaque broke off, and when it did, my body went into some type of attack mode and formed a blood clot over it thinking it was a scab. And the blood clot blocked it 100 percent. I don't have any family history of it. Now I'm in physical therapy and on five different medications.”

Martinson said he’s had trouble coming to terms with the medical event due to being at a young age and in good health. Since his heart attack, he’s been in RCH’s Cardiac Rehabilitation program to get his strength and endurance built back up. He’s there three times a week.

“When I first started here, they told me I was going to get frustrated, which I did,” Martinson said. “They knew I wasn't going to be able to do the things I thought I should be able to do. I was walking baby steps on the treadmill and still not sure on my feet. They reassured me that everything was going to be OK, but I was going to have to take my time.” 

Martinson said his outlook on life has changed since his heart attack. Even though he felt like he was in good health before it, he’s more cautious. He takes his time while trying to get tasks done. He’s changed his eating habits. He’s exercising more, even if he’s only able to in small increments for now. 

Most importantly, Martinson said he cherishes his family and loved ones more now.

“The biggest thing we sit and talk about every night is, just make sure that you never leave anything unsaid,” Martinson said. “Cherish the things you have and don't take things for granted. I cherish my family a lot more now than I did before. Not that I didn't cherish them before, but I thought I had 40 more years with them. I almost had 40 years taken away from me."

Dealing with anxiety and aches and pains has been a struggle for Martinson since the event. Every time something feels off, he thinks it’s another heart attack. His cardiologist has told him that anxiety will pass over time, but also told Martinson he can never be too safe.

Martinson said before late October, he was the type of person that would put off going to the doctor if something small felt off. His advice to others after his situation is to do the opposite of that. 

“Go to the doctor,” Martinson said. “Because I was a person that never went to the doctor. Go for a physical every year. Go have regular checkups. Don't ignore aches and pains. Because I did, and if I would have ignored it any more, I wouldn't be sitting here.”

After getting Martinson to OSF St. Anthony in late October, James called the hospital and was glad to know he was out of surgery and doing well. 

“He actually came back to say thank you when he was discharged from the hospital about a week later,” James said. “It's very emotional to see he's doing well and his family is too."

Martinson has enjoyed doing cardiac rehab at the hospital that helped him initially when he had his heart attack. 

"I just can't say enough about the staff here,” Martinson said. “The rehab staff has been great. But the emergency room staff, I can't thank them enough. I think more people should give this hospital a chance because I'm living proof of the quality of care they can give you until you can get to a bigger hospital."

The Rochelle Community Hospital Cardiac Rehabilitation Program is an exercise and education program designed for each individual who has a diagnosed heart condition. The program is typically 18-36 sessions that meets early mornings on Monday, Wednesday and Fridays. It is a medically supervised program with telemetry monitoring your heart while exercising. It is covered by most insurance plans and needs a physician referral/prescription to participate. The goal is to help each patient become stronger and healthier. For more information, call 815-562-2181, ext. 2732.