Some call my survival a miracle. I call it exceptional medicine – a result of the extraordinary efforts and compassion of all who worked tirelessly on my behalf.
Peter Reikes woke up at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell with no memory of the prior 3½ weeks following a sudden, and severe, cardiac arrest.
For Peter, it was just “white space.” For all those attempting to save his life, it was a miraculous experience.
“I have no recollection of the event itself – nothing about feeling pain or dizziness or grabbing my chest or looking around and saying, something’s not right,” says Peter. “I was sitting around a conference table at work with my colleagues. It was midday and I was just about to leave for a lunch. I evidently just tipped over and fell onto the floor, and a lot of incredibly fortunate things then came together to allow me to tell the tale today.”
Not least is that Peter’s colleagues started CPR immediately and paramedics arrived in less than 10 minutes, an impressive feat considering it was St. Patrick’s Day and his office is located in midtown Manhattan. The lead paramedic decided to transport Peter to NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell, a medical center well known for treating complex cardiac problems.
For much of the next month, Peter was kept in a medically induced coma at the Ronald O. Perelman Heart Institute. He underwent numerous emergency surgeries, even flat-lining several times during treatment. Because of his dire condition, doctors connected Peter to an ECMO machine, an innovative device which is unavailable in most hospitals and provides both cardiac and respiratory support to critically ill patients whose heart and lungs are unable to provide an adequate amount of gas exchange to sustain life. ECMO allowed Peter’s organs to recover.
“People have since asked me repeatedly, ‘It must have been overwhelming, horrifying, gut-wrenching!’ It certainly was for my wife, kids, family and friends. For them it was an hourly vigil. But by the time I came out of it, there was a recovery plan in place, so I never felt as though I were on the brink. And a coordinated team of others was doing the real work, so it felt as though I were just along for the ride. My wife Randi knows more than I do. There are still people whose names I’ve heard, but whose faces I don’t recognize... but Randi does. When she sees them, it’s a love-in... they reminisce, they laugh, they talk. They developed an extremely strong bond.”
An investment banker focusing on the healthcare industry, Peter has new appreciation for the technology and healthcare system that saved his life. “Just a decade ago, ECMO did not exist, the ICD with pacing that I have in my chest right now did not exist,” notes Peter. “These procedures, drugs, and the other care that I received were the difference-makers. That is a testament to innovation. It’s also a testament to the people and resources at NewYork-Presbyterian.”
Peter continues to return to the Perelman Heart Institute to thank those who treated him. “I go back because I like to see and thank the people who made it happen for me. It’s a little bit of a victory lap – not just for me, but also for them. When I go back, I say, “I’ll keep coming back as long as you all keep looking excited when I show up.’ Their response has always been, ‘Not enough people do come back. Not enough people can come back’.” I remember when I was being discharged, three of my primary doctors came into the room to say goodbye. I said, ‘I want to say thank you, but thank you feels so grossly inadequate.’ It’s not every day that you can look somebody in the eye and say, ‘thanks for saving my life,’ but that’s precisely what they did. In the end, the distinguishing factor between life and death for me was a group of people who did their jobs. It was nothing short of extraordinary.”