John Klimczak knows that he is a very lucky man.
"I was literally dead – without a pulse and unresponsive for 35 minutes – and they kept me alive through CPR. They paddled me 15 times, and they did not give up," Klimczak said as he recalled the events of Oct. 12, 2011 that preceded the emergency measures undertaken to save his life.
Klimczak, 48, had not previously been diagnosed with any heart problems. He'd been having some arms pains on and off for a few weeks, but they always diminshed when he shook his arm and breathed deeply.
However, when the symptoms reappeared on the morning of Oct. 12 and Klimczak was unable to shake them off, one of his coworkers at One Beacon Professional Insurance in Farmington called 9-1-1. That move, along with Klimczak's decision to be brought to UConn, made a major difference in his survival.
Klimczak had a massive heart attack just after he arrived at the Emergency Department at UConn Health Center that Wednesdsay morning. He said he likely would not have had a chance of surviving if he was not already at the hospital when it happened.
Luckily for Klimczak, he was not only at a hospital, but at a facility with the state-of-the-art Pat and Jim Calhoun Cardiology Center and a team of experts who used heroic measures to save his life.
"The doctor later said that my case was hopeless, futile. They told me that they had to rely on measures that they don't usually use," Klimczak said. Cardiologist Dr. Michael Azrin made the decision to implant a balloon pump in Klimczak’s leg in an effort to help the heart regain a normal rhythm.
“It supported his heart enough to provide some electrical stability,” said Dr. Azrin, who then performed an angioplasty in the cardiac catheterization lab once heart rhythm was restored. “Remarkably, the resuscitation that was done was so effective that he’s unbelievably untouched by this event. It’s really gratifying.”
Klimczak believes that was just one of the miracles that happened that day. He credits the work of his caregivers at UConn, as well as the grace of God for the fact that he not only survived the ordeal, but an echo-cardiogram just a week later showed no damage to his heart.
He's still undergoing cardiac rehabilitation at Blue Back Square, takes daily medication, and is on a restricted diet, "but nothing crazy," Klimczak said. "I'm almost 100 percent now. I can't run a marathon – I never could – but I'm not tired and I can keep on doing what I'm doing."
Klimczak wanted to give back to those who saved his life, and to show his incredible gratitude to the team at UConn Health Center, last Friday Klimczak and his family hosted a luncheon – Miracle on 263 Farmington Ave. – for the team he credits with saving his life.
"This was all his idea. He really wanted to do it," said Chris DeFrancesco, communications officer at UConn Health Center.
"I had to give back. They saved my life and I never got to thank them," Klimczak said.
Klimczak specifically thanked the following individuals who assisted in his care, and hopes he didn't leave anyone out. In the Emergency Room: Julie Wilbraham RN; Rodney Czerneki, RN; Eileen Dyson, RN; Maureen Worley, APRN; Dr. Heather Sibley; and Dr. Frank Lasala. In the cath lab: Christy Meyer, RN; Sue Rosa, RN; Cathy Ingriselli, RN; Shiela LaFleur, RN; Dr. Michael Azrin; Dr. Bhava Reddy; Dr. Heiko Schmitt; Dr. Afrooz Ardestani; Dr. Jason Ryan; and David Muccino (medical student).
Klimczak also wrote the following letter, which is being shared with his permission, detailing his experience and expressing his gratitude for the miracle that he is healthy today.
Hello, my name is John Klimczak and I am a “Walking Miracle.” Although to some that that may sound egotistical or self-centered, nothing can be further from the truth for by God’s Amazing Grace and through His work with the amazing people at UConn Health Center, my life was preserved after suffering a massive heart attack on Oct. 12, 2011.
That day had started like any other day – rushing around, getting ready for work and getting the kids ready for school. As was normally the case, there was too much to do in too little time, but the family muddled through.
Once the immediate needs were met I started by 20-minute drive to work. It was then that I sensed that something was different. As I drove down Route 6 toward Farmington I realized that I was experiencing a weird feeling in my chest and down my left arm. I quickly tried to figure out what I should do as the sensation was more of an inconvenience than anything else.
I decided to continue on to work but as I pulled into the parking lot I realized that the discomfort had increased. I got out of the car and instead of getting my computer and briefcase out of the car, I just walked slowly around the parking lot shaking my left arm and taking deep breaths. It was then that Jason Mitchell and Gail Fauci, two people I work with, inquired if I was okay. Unbeknownst to me at the time, Jason was familiar with my symptoms and quickly told me to sit down and relax while Gail called 9-1-1. Being the prideful and stubborn man that I was I denied that I needed help; however, their persistence won over and 9-1-1 was called.
Within five minutes the ambulance arrived and the medical professionals quickly came into the foyer of the building to assess the situation. Their demeanor was calming yet direct, and their presence put me at ease. After completing some preliminary activities, it was agreed that I should go to the hospital for further observation.
It was at that time that I was asked the question, “What hospital do you want to go to?” Having never personally been in the hospital before, I didn’t know how to answer. The only real experience that I had with a hospital was with the birth of my two children so I initially thought of Hartford Hospital. However, I further asked if it mattered with my insurance coverage where I went and was told it didn’t matter, so I decided on UConn Health Center largely because of its proximity to my home in West Hartford and for the convenience of my wife. This decision, as it turned out, was the absolute BEST decision that I could have ever made.
The ride in the ambulance was uneventful, without excessive speed or sirens. I was still very uncomfortable but I was having a very nice conversation with the EMT and I was at peace. I even called my wife to tell her of the situation and where I was going.
Upon getting to UConn I remembered being pulled out of the back of the ambulance by an EMT professional and asking whether or not the scissor-like legs of the stretcher would automatically open up. That was my biggest concern at the time. As he smiled, he assured me that they always had opened properly in the past.
As I was wheeled into my “Emergency Room Cube,” I was met by my wife, and some very helpful medical personnel who obviously were already apprised of the situation and who quickly tended to my needs. Within minutes, though, I was still very uncomfortable but now my condition had turned to pain. The last thing I remember was sitting up and saying, “Please Lord, please be with me,” and then I blacked out.
It was then that the grace of God took hold. I obviously don’t remember it, but I was told that instantaneously 20 people rushed to assist me as the emergency codes were run. My wife told me later that it was truly amazing to watch how the team worked like a machine in defibrillating me and working on the other aspects of my resuscitation. I was told they worked feverishly to restart my heart and through it all, my wife Michele outwardly prayed as she was actively consoled and supported by the staff, another gift from God.
The amazing thing here is that the team never stopped. I was told later that for 35 minutes I was unresponsive to all resuscitation attempts, but they never gave up and they continued to persevere while keeping me alive through CPR and other means. This is truly amazing to me and I am sincerely indebted to everyone who was involved.
I am told that an emergency angiogram and angioplasty was expertly executed and my heart began to beat again. However, evidently my condition was still quite grave and at that point the prognosis was that I would either have another heart attack or would have suffered extensive brain damage. However, my wife, a woman of strong and unwavering faith, put her trust in God and maintained that I would make it through. She was again compassionately supported by everyone at the UConn Health Center.
I unfortunately can’t comment on the medical details from that point forward, but all I know is that I rested comfortably and was at peace for 40 hours. I have been told that I was put on ice to minimize cerebral swelling and had a lot of machines hooked up to me. However, personally I was oblivious to everything and was in a “happy place” relaxing comfortably.
This is where the intensive care medical staff at UConn really shined. They took expert medical care of me and put my wife and my family at ease. Again they worked like a well-oiled machine and very much a part of a team.
The next recollection that I have was at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 13. I was told that at that time I was being roused from my medically induced coma and I was regaining consciousness. In looking around the room, I remember seeing the clock and thinking it was 6:30 a.m. Much to my wife’s chagrin and my future embarrassment, my first words were, “Michele, it’s 6:30 … I am late for work … Where is my laptop?” She quickly apprised me of what amazing things had occurred and I sheepishly apologized.
The balance of my stay in the hospital and the subsequent appointments with the cardiology department were nothing short of amazing. People were so attentive to my needs, and their professionalism and compassion have been quite impressive. I continue to be moved by the positive, professional treatment that I received by the entire staff. UConn Health Center is truly a class act regarding patient care.
In closing, I just want to reference a statement that Abraham Lincoln made in delivering the Gettysburg Address: “The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.”
This statement is quite applicable to the experience that I had at the UConn Health Center. People should take note at the wonderful activities and medical advances that are occurring on a daily basis at the UConn Health Center. I, for one, am personally indebted for their perseverance, knowledge, and expertise, and I thank them from the bottom of my now well working heart!