I have such gratitude to my medical team and all they did for me.
Michael McGuire, 69, had a history of visiting the emergency room after bouts of severe heartburn, just to be sure it wasn’t something serious. When he awoke with chest pain at 3 am on Saturday, April 28, 2018, after having a meatball sandwich the evening before, he thought it was just another case of heartburn — although much worse than in the past.
“It almost felt like an ulcer — there was so much pain in the middle of my chest,” recalls Michael, an actor and voice-over artist who had transitioned to a career as a real estate project manager. By 8 am, he began packing a knapsack as he and his fiancée, Cindy, finished breakfast and prepared to visit the emergency department at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center, about 20 blocks south of their Washington Heights apartment.
However, this time would be different. As Cindy placed her empty coffee cup in the kitchen sink, she heard a loud bang in the living room. She came in to find Michael lying on the floor face down, gasping for air. His face was bleeding where he had hit his head on the coffee table. He was having a severe heart attack. Cindy called 9-1-1 and also yelled into the hallway for help, attracting the attention of her neighbor, Robin.
Cindy was not trained in CPR, but the 9-1-1 dispatcher told her and Robin what to do. After 8 minutes of chest compressions — “8 minutes which seemed like 4 hours,” notes Cindy, an actress and an administrator for a finance company — the paramedics arrived and took over, supporting Michael’s heart for another 12 minutes and transporting him to the hospital. His brain had been deprived of sufficient oxygen-rich blood for 20 minutes.
Arriving at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center, Michael was whisked to the cardiac catheterization lab, where interventional cardiologist Dr. Philip Green inserted two stents to restore blood flow through Michael’s clogged arteries. He was stabilized and admitted to the intensive care unit.
All seemed well until 11 pm when Michael’s blood pressure began to plummet. Cardiologist Dr. Reshad Garan recommended that he be placed immediately on extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO), a method to support his circulation while his heart healed. His hospital room was quickly transformed into an operating room as surgeon Dr. Marisa Cevasco connected Michael to the lifesaving device. NewYork-Presbyterian is one of the first three programs in the world to achieve status as a Platinum Center of Excellence from the Extracorporeal Life Support Organization. Dr. Green also returned that night to implant a second heart pump in Michael’s body to work with ECMO.
With friends and family sitting vigils day and night, he healed. “It was very dire, with Michael riding a fine line,” says Cindy. “Dr. Garan didn’t get my hopes up, but he gave me hope.”
After five days, Michael no longer needed ECMO. He remained in the hospital for another eight days, stepping down to the cardiac care floor, with Cindy helping him learn how to eat again. The oxygen deprivation his brain endured also affected his cognitive abilities, such as word recall.
Thanks to the services provided through NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia’s NeuroCardiac Comprehensive Care Clinic, he began the long road to recovery, receiving cognitive therapy designed for brain-injured patients. His rehabilitation continued at an inpatient center in Westchester County, where he received cognitive therapy and physical therapy for three weeks, transitioning to outpatient care at another center that ended in December 2018.
While Michael has no memory of his time at Columbia, he did say he could feel the progress through his recovery.
“There were a lot of things happening in that first 24 hours that worked in my favor,” he says, noting that being in excellent physical shape also helped him survive. “I have such gratitude to my medical team and all they did for me.” He now sees Dr. Garan for quarterly checkups.
Something else wonderful happened along the way: Michael and Cindy got married. After 18 years together, they had been planning a family wedding in Italy in June 2018, followed by a reception in September at the Brooklyn restaurant where Michael ate the meatball sandwich the night before his heart attack. Instead of Italy, they shared their vows in front of their loved ones at that same restaurant on the planned reception day — September 30, 2018 — where Michael walked down the aisle before Cindy to a joyous reception from the attendees. “It was a remarkable greeting,” Michael remembers.
“Everyone was so happy because they went through the experience with us at Columbia, where the care was extraordinary and Michael’s recovery miraculous,” Cindy adds. “We chose the traditional vows of ‘in sickness and in health’ because after what we had been through, they weren’t just words. They were a true celebration of life and the power of love.”