Surviving Cardiac Arrest Takes a Village

May 27, 2020

Robert McGoff is a creature of habit. Four mornings a week, the 85-year-old wakes up at 6 a.m. and heads to his gym in Brick, New Jersey, for his regular workout. On December 19, 2019, however, he almost shirked that routine to stay in bed to get a bit more sleep.

“I had to tell myself, ‘Bob, don’t be lazy. Get out of bed and go to the gym,’” he says.

It’s a decision that would ultimately save his life.

After a workout that included 20 minutes of walking on the treadmill, Bob collapsed. “The next thing I know, I’m waking up in the hospital,” he says. “I don’t remember much of that day.”

Helping Hands

Bob had gone into cardiac arrest. Fortunately, off-duty police officer Jonathan Woolley and retired police officer and current personal trainer Amy Greenberger were also at the gym that morning. They saw Bob go down and immediately jumped into action. Within seconds of his collapse, Jonathan and Amy were administering CPR and using a defibrillator until rescue crews arrived just a few minutes later.

“We just did what we felt we had to do,” Amy told News 12 in New Jersey. “I would hope anyone else would do it.”

Bob considers himself very lucky. “If I would have stayed home that morning and gone into cardiac arrest alone, this could have been a very different story,” he says.

He’s not dramatizing: According to the American Heart Association, almost 90 percent of people who suffer from cardiac arrest outside of the hospital do not survive.

A Miraculous Recovery

After paramedics arrived at the gym, Bob was rushed to Ocean Medical Center, where emergency room physician Kelly DiFabio, D.O., was waiting to treat him.

“I was told by the charge nurse that I would be receiving a patient with CPR in progress,” Dr. DiFabio says. “Surprisingly, Bob came in awake, alert and talking, which is incredible. We get calls all the time for cardiac arrest, but the survival rate of out-of-hospital cardiac arrest is really low.”

Once Bob was in her care, Dr. DiFabio put him on antiarrhythmic medication to decrease the chance of any further deadly arrhythmias and performed an EKG. The results were abnormal, so Dr. DiFabio started planning for Bob’s definitive care.

“He needed to go to Jersey Shore University Medical Center because he was a higher-risk patient,” she says. At Jersey Shore, cardiothoracic surgeon Kourosh Asgarian, D.O., led a team of cardiothoracic surgeons and cardiologists—including Ahmad Salloum, M.D., Harshil Patel, M.D., Brook DeJene, M.D., and Virendra Patel, M.D.—in his treatment. Ultimately, Dr. Asgarian performed an open-heart coronary bypass graft, which treats blockages or narrowing in coronary arteries to restore blood supply to the heart.

“The doctors removed two blockages,” Bob says. “I really didn’t feel any pain after. It’s amazing what they can do in hospitals today.”

While Bob doesn’t remember much about the day of his cardiac arrest, he’s still surprised the entire event happened because there were no signs that anything was wrong. “I didn’t have shortness of breath,” he says. “I didn’t have anything.”

Dr. DiFabio says that is not so unusual. “A lot of people experience cardiac arrest because they go into a deadly arrhythmia, and sometimes there are no preceding signs,” she says. “Some people do feel nonspecific symptoms of fatigue and are a little bit more run-down than normal in the preceding days, but some people feel totally normal.”

Despite the lack of warning signs, Bob’s cardiac arrest ended as well as could be expected. Just after Christmas, he was able to return home with no lasting neurological damage from the cardiac arrest. “The fact that he survived, and survived to discharge completely neurologically intact, is pretty miraculous,” Dr. DiFabio says.

The Road to Full Recovery

Since leaving the hospital, Bob has been recovering at home, participating in continued rehab at Ocean and watched over by his four daughters, who often check on him and fill his refrigerator.

“They’re always over here,” Bob says. “I feel like they all want to help me, and I appreciate it. That’s just a matter of human nature, to protect members of the family that aren’t doing well.”

That support is key, Dr. DiFabio says. “It’s a whole process of recovery, and it takes a village of people to care for you,” she says.

That care is currently what keeps Bob motivated to get back to his life. “I still have a lot I want to do,” he says.

Those goals include getting back to work, at least a little. Bob owns a transportation company in New Jersey that two of his daughters now run. “I want to be sure I leave the business in the best shape I can possibly leave it in,” he says. “I also have three grandchildren graduating from high school this year.”

Bob also looks forward to thanking the individuals that acted so quickly in the gym to save his life. “My kids went out to visit [Jonathan] a day or two after it happened and thank him for saving my life,” Bob says. “Once I can get out of the house more, I will make it a special point to go see the people at the gym who helped me.”

Finally, Bob can’t wait to get back into the gym and resume his regular morning workouts. “I’ll be back there doing my 20 minutes on the treadmill,” he says.

Next Steps & Resources:

  • Learn how we are committed to delivering highly personalized and compassionate cardiac care.
  • Dr. DiFabio practices in Brick. Dr. Asgarian practices in Neptune. To make an appointment, call 732-776-4618.

The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.