John Ogburn almost died on the floor of a Charlotte, North Carolina restaurant last summer when his heart suddenly, and inexplicably, stopped beating. Today, the Charlotte native is back managing his landscape design business, in great health, and confident that the device implanted in his chest by a Novant Health cardiologist will prevent something like this from ever happening again.
On a June afternoon in 2017, as Ogburn worked on his laptop at Panera Bread, the unthinkable happened: His heart – suddenly and without warning – quit beating, he stopped breathing, and he had no pulse. The married father of three — with no history of heart disease, who doesn’t smoke and exercises up to five days a week — had suffered cardiac arrest.
On the three-mile ambulance ride to Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center, paramedics performed CPR and used a defibrillator numerous times to restart Ogburn’s heart. Upon arrival, he had a pulse, but his heart was beating erratically, his blood pressure kept dropping, and his oxygen levels were low. After tests ruled out a heart attack and blood clots, doctors put Ogburn into a medically induced coma so that his body could heal faster. He awoke three days later on his 36th birthday.
“John’s recovery from his cardiac arrest is definitely quite remarkable,” said Dr. Amy McLaughlin, who evaluated and treated Ogburn in the emergency department. “To go almost 30 minutes without a pulse and survive without serious neurological issues is rare.”
Police officers start CPR
One factor working in his favor: Two Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department officers arrived on the scene within seconds of the 911 call and started performing CPR. Had they not been there, the outcome may have been different, McLaughlin said.
Cardiac arrest differs from a heart attack. During a heart attack, blood flow to the heart is blocked often by a blood clot or plaque buildup in the arteries caused by fat, cholesterol and other substances. In cardiac arrest, the heart actually stops beating, usually caused by an abnormal and very rapid heart rhythm.
“You can think of a heart attack as a circulation issue and a cardiac arrest as an electrical issue,” said Dr. Kevin Hsu, a cardiologist and cardiac electrophysiologist with Novant Health Heart and Vascular Institute.—Charlotte.
The reason for Ogburn’s cardiac arrest is unknown, or idiopathic in medical terminology. “An occurrence like this one — when there isn’t a definitive reason for the heart’s electrical malfunction — is unusual, but always possible,” said Hsu.
‘Insurance policy for the heart’
To reduce the chances of Ogburn suffering a cardiac arrest again, Hsu surgically inserted a small, permanent device in his chest called an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD), designed to detect an abnormal heart rhythm and shock the heart back into functioning normally. “This device is like having an ‘insurance policy’ for the heart,” said Hsu. “If John should have another cardiac arrest, his ICD will save his life.”
Ogburn is reminded of his harrowing experience whenever he catches a glimpse of the incision and the noticeable lump from the ICD on the left side of his chest. “Going through an experience like this has added tremendous perspective to my life,” said Ogburn. “Tomorrow isn’t promised to any of us, so I live life in the moment as much as I can and focus on what’s truly important.”