John Pomfred: Walking Gratefully
John Pomfred, a 63-year-old retired Avery Dennison project manager, has always been a walker. Just a few years ago, he and his wife walked five or six miles almost every day with their two Golden Retrievers near their Southboro home. After John experienced shortness of breath during his walks, tests revealed that one of his arteries was 85-90 percent blocked. In February, 2006, John underwent successful coronary bypass surgery at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.
While recovering in the Intensive Care Unit, John had a heart attack. In an event apparently unrelated to the surgery, some plaque became dislodged from another artery. ICU personnel quickly deployed a defibrillator to restart his heart, without success.
ICU staff brought John's situation to the attention of Kamal Khabbaz, MD, a Beth Israel Deaconess heart surgeon who was in the ICU at the time. He quickly assessed John's situation and opened his chest right in his room.
"He and another doctor hand-massaged my heart until they got a portable ECMO machine, which only a few hospitals in this area have available," John says he learned later. ECMO is extra corporeal membrane oxygenation equipment that is typically used to keep the heart and lungs working during surgery. Later that day, Dr. Khabbaz did a second, successful bypass operation.
After the second surgery, John was in a medically induced coma for two weeks. When he came out of it, Rip van Winkle-like, he learned that he was lucky to have avoided brain damage because his heart had stopped intermittently, for a total of 10 minutes. The artery in which the clot had originated had not been a candidate for the first bypass surgery because it was only 35 percent blocked.
The road back was challenging with the need for extensive rehabilitation. Today, however, apart from minor neuropathy, with an implanted cardiac defibrillator (ICD), John is in good health. He again walks a mile or two every day with his wife and dogs, and he has seen his fourth grandchild come into the world.
"Dr. Khabbaz saved my life along with those wonderful nurses and the whole team," he says. "The CardioVascular Institute had all the resources required to save my life. Every day is a special day for me because it's an extra day."
John is so grateful that on September 13, 2008, he walked with the CardioVascular Institute team in the Boston Heart Walk. "I want to support Beth Israel Deaconess and I want to support the Heart Association," he says, because "They are helping people understand heart disease and working to prevent it."