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Terry Hammonds

Man fights for his life after massive heart attack

Terry Hammonds, a 56-year-old Eatonton, Ga., resident, collapsed while coaching his daughter's travel softball team at a Conyers recreational park in October 2011. He stopped breathing and went into cardiac arrest. With no defibrillator to be found at the park, a nurse who was among the parents watching the game that day emerged from the stands and performed CPR on Hammonds for 13 minutes until the local EMS arrived.

Once the ambulance arrived, Hammonds was taken to a local hospital in Rockdale, where doctors told his wife Laura they were having a hard time keeping his heart going. Once stabilized, he was moved to Piedmont Atlanta Hospital, where he could receive more advanced treatment from Piedmont Heart Institute physicians. “Terry had been without oxygen for so long that we had to cool his body temperature to protect his brain,” said Vivek Rajagopal, M.D., interventional cardiologist with Piedmont Heart.

After the cardiac arrest, Hammonds’ heart and lungs functioned poorly, requiring him to be placed on ECMO, or extra-corporeal membrane oxygenation, which worked for Hammonds’ heart and lungs since they could not function on their own.

Traditionally, ECMO machines are used for newborns in respiratory distress. Piedmont Heart physicians were leaders in adapting the use of ECMO machines to treat adults in the state and consequently, have the most experience in Georgia. Slowly, Hammonds’ organs began to respond.

He developed a number of complications, including gastrointestinal ulcers. As doctors began to restore his body back to normal temperature, Hammonds’ blood lost the ability to clot, causing doctors to use 30 units of blood products to stabilize him. Later, when doctors started reducing Hammonds’ sedation medication to wake him up, he remained in a coma. “Every day I would go in and…nothing,” said Laura.

“The ICU-Red nurses became like family. It wasn’t just my husband those Piedmont nurses were caring for – they were taking care of me and my daughters, too. We would go in to exercise his arms and legs daily, and the nurses were there to help us understand what was going on.”

One day, Hammonds’ daughter went so far as to paint his nails bright red to make him mad enough to wake up. Days later, he started responding with a squeeze of the hand. It had been 14 days since doctors took him off sedation by the time Hammonds was fully awake. “We were in the right place at the right time,” said Laura. “People don’t have to die of heart attacks now with the ability to correctly perform CPR.

There really is no reason my husband should have survived the heart attack, never mind the complications he experienced while in the hospital, but he did and I’m thankful for it.”

Hammonds’ recovery was far from over, however. Dr. Rajagopal told Hammonds’ wife that the remainder of his recovery would be a marathon, not a sprint, and could take months or even a year. But that hasn’t stopped Hammonds, who returned to Piedmont Atlanta in February 2012 to have remaining coronary artery blockages fixed.

“The minute we left the hospital after those blockages were fixed, we headed to the softball field at Terry’s request,” said Laura. “He remains very passionate about the game to this day and hasn’t let what’s happened to him get in his way.”

Though he’s unable to coach on the field anymore, Hammonds continues to provide winning strategies from the sidelines. A year later, Hammonds still has no memory of the incident on the softball field. In fact, the last thing he remembers is going to the grocery store the night before it happened. He continues to receive follow-up care at the Piedmont Heart Institute office in Eatonton. A heart attack strikes someone about every 34 seconds, according to the American Heart Association.

It occurs when the blood flow that brings oxygen to the heart muscle is severely reduced or cut off completely. Heart attack signs include chest discomfort or pressure; pain in the arms, back, neck, jaw or stomach; shortness of breath; cold sweat; nausea or dizziness. If you or anyone know is experiencing these symptoms, call 911 immediately.

For more information on heart health or to evaluate your risk for heart disease, visit Piedmont Heart Institute.

Need to make an appointment with a Piedmont physician? Save time, book online.

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