When Bonnie answered the phone, a stranger answered. He asked, “Do you know Walter Hill?” Bonnie’s heart sank. She told the man that Walter was her husband. He said that Walter was at Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center and Bonnie needed to get there, right away.
Walter and Bonnie had been married for 25 years and enjoyed an active lifestyle that included golfing and traveling together. Walter was an athlete who ran a six-minute mile when he was 40 years old. In all of his 73 years, he never had a serious medical issue or hospital stay. On this morning, however, that would change in an instant.
Walter was just a few minutes into his run at the track when he went into cardiac arrest and abruptly collapsed. He likely might have died then and there, but fortunately for Walter and his family, several blessings occurred that day.
The first was that, though the track was usually deserted when Walter arrived in the morning, a school official happened to be at the facility. This individual knew CPR and began performing it as soon as he found Walter and then called for an ambulance.
Paramedics Jose Perez and Steve Hopkins had to start Walter’s heart a second time while they were en route to the hospital. They were taking him to the facility they knew was best suited to care for such a severe cardiac case— Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center.
As soon as Walter arrived, an expert team of emergency clinicians and cardiology specialists worked to stabilize his condition. By the time Bonnie arrived and was greeted by the hospital’s chaplain, Walter’s physicians were already transitioning him into round-the-clock treatment in the hospital’s ICU.
Walter’s doctors informed Bonnie that, in order to treat the underlying conditions around his cardiac arrest and help his body heal, they were going to put him in a medically-induced state of hypothermia for 48 hours.
Bonnie went in to see Walter, who was still unconscious at the time, hooked up to a variety of medical equipment. She leaned over and whispered in his ear, “You need to stay here. It’s going to be okay.” At that instant, his eyes opened for a moment. Doctor Philip Schwarzman, who was with Bonnie at that moment, said “that’s what we want to see,” referring to a clear sign of Walter’s will to keep fighting.
Throughout their complicated journey, Bonnie was continually amazed by the skill, professionalism and personal warmth evinced by the caregivers at Providence Saint Joseph. “The care and attention we got from everyone at the hospital was just phenomenal,” she said. “The nurses would give me blankets, ask if I needed to rest…it was like family.”
As the team methodically brought Walter out of his medically-induced hypothermia, Bonnie wanted to put blankets on him. “I hated seeing him like that. I really wanted to just warm him up. But the nurses told me no, there’s an exact approach they had to gradually warm him up with. And they were right.”
After several days, Walter finally woke up. “I felt very peaceful upon waking but I didn’t recognize where I was. My first instinct was to ask for Bonnie and she was there. And I asked her where I was and she said ‘you’re in the hospital Walter, you’ve had a heart attack.’” Walter was stunned.
He had no memory of the heart attack or anything that happened afterwards. He had to learn the details from his family and his caregivers as he spent the next week steadily recuperating at Providence Saint Joseph, where he shared Bonnie’s enthusiasm over the quality of care he received.
“They did a phenomenal job,” he said. “These doctors and nurses didn’t just save my life, they treated me like I was genuinely their friend.”
Walter left Providence Saint Joseph with a clean bill of health and today he and Bonnie are back to enjoying their lives to the fullest, which includes spending time with their three daughters, dozen grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
Though he regrets the trauma his family experienced as a result of his heart attack, Walter has reflected on the event and come to appreciate the positives that came out of it. For one thing, the many blessings and coincidences that helped him stay alive the day of his heart attack have resonated strongly and helped Walter connect more fully with his faith. “It has honestly been the most enlightening spiritual experience I have had,” he said.
Another great upside is that Walter and Bonnie have continued to receive care at Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center and are grateful to have formed lasting relationships with the caregivers who saved his life. “We’ve really come to love the doctors and nurses here,” Bonnie said. “This is where we come now, and this is where our health is taken care of. We look forward to coming to Providence Saint Joseph.”