Heart Victim Returns To Say Thanks

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When Springfield resident Dave Pilger walked into Casey’s General Store in Nokomis on Sunday, Jan. 2, he did so with a smile on his face–much the same as he did when he walked into the store for the first time nearly five months ago. The difference between the two visits is what happened after he walked into the store the first time–life saving action that allowed him the opportunity to walk into the store the second time.

On Sunday, Jan. 2, Pilger and his wife Pam returned to the Nokomis Casey’s to thank a compassionate store clerk, Jennifer Stufflebean, and the swift and professional EMTs, Travis and Kristen Hocq, who helped him survive a massive heart attack.

Aug. 7 was a typical summer Saturday, which found the Pilgers out on a rural road trip on their motorcycle.  Dave is a fit 57-year-old maintenance man who works for the Springfield school district.

“We decided to stop somewhere and get a drink, and we always look for a Casey’s,” he remembered.

The couple walked in for their refreshing thirst-quencher on a hot August day, made their selections and completed the transaction, then walked back out with their drinks.

“But I didn’t feel quite right,” the heart attack victim said.  “I sat down, but just couldn’t stop sweating, so I came back in the store.”

Stufflebean, a retired Army nurse who had only been working as a clerk at Casey’s for a couple of months, could also tell something was amiss, and invited Pilger to step into the beer cooler to try to cool off.

“They both came in smiling, so I just thought at first he was over-heated,” Stufflebean said.

But his condition continued to deteriorate.  Pilger said he felt like he had a sandbag sitting on his chest, complained that his arm was hurting, and his color had changed–signs of a heart attack.

So Stufflebean called 911.

Responding to the call were Travis and Kristen Hocq, a husband-wife team for the Nokomis-Witt Area Ambulance Service.

“After 28 years in EMS, I had a pretty good idea from his color that he was having a myocardial infarction (heart attack), so I called for Arch (medical helicopter),” Travis Hocq said.

The emergency medical team hooked the victim up to a 12-lead electrocardiogram (ECG).

“It was the widow maker,” Hocq said.

What? The widow maker?

Hocq explained that a widow maker is a big blockage at the beginning of the left main artery or the left anterior descending artery–a major pipeline for blood.  At best, heart attacks at that level have a survival rate of only 12 percent. At that moment, odds were nearly nine out of ten that Pilger was not going to survive.

Because of Hocq’s quick thinking, the medical helicopter was already on the way, so the EMTs took the victim to the landing zone at Nokomis High School.  He was quickly transferred to the Arch helicopter and on his way to St. John’s Hospital in Springfield.

“That was my first helicopter ride–and hopefully my last,” Pilger was able to joke.

Hocq explained, though, that the air ambulance was crucial to his survival.

“From the time we first arrived on the scene until balloon time (the time that the victim was getting a life-saving procedure at the Springfield hospital) was 54 minutes,” Hocq said. “The national average is 126 minutes.”

Then, with the start of a smile that hinted at the pride he takes in his work, the EMT added, “If you were gonna have a heart attack, you’re lucky you had it in Nokomis.”

Of course, Pilger’s wife was left behind in Nokomis while her husband was air-lifted to Springfield.  She remained until her son arrived to ride the motorcycle back, and she drove her son’s vehicle.  It was after 7 p.m. before she was able to get to the hospital where her husband was just finishing a procedure that installed three stints.  A fourth stint was put in later, and Pilger was on the road to recovery.

The Pilgers were waiting in the store when Stufflebean arrived on Jan. 2, a reunion set up by store manager Sheila Seaton.  The store clerk recognized him immediately, and broke into a smile and laugh.

Pilger, the heart attack victim that she helped save, presented her with a pin from Casey’s recognizing her above-and-beyond action.

He also presented her with a hug, and a grateful “thank you,” thanks he also shared with the EMTs–all Nokomis residents whose actions helped make sure their Springfield visitor was able to return.

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