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Mechanical chest compression device helps save woman’s life

Diane Newman's Story

Survivor, Diane Newman

You won’t read about it in celestial journals or astronomical guides, but Nov. 29, 2014, is the day the stars and planets were in absolutely perfectalignment for Diane Newman.

“It was a right place, right time sort of event,” explains Mark Schultz, DO, the emergency medicine physician who was on duty when Diane was brought to the emergency department at ProHealth Waukesha Memorial Hospital in the throes of a heart attack. “A ton of pieces had to be in place – knowledgeable emergency personnel, experienced hospital staff, a patient who was a fighter – and they all were.”

And that’s why Diane is alive today.

It was a fairly typical Saturday for Diane and Rudy Langenbach, her significant other of 18 years. They were meeting with their insurance agent to discuss supplemental insurance policies. As the conversation progressed, Diane had difficulty understanding what the agent was saying. She became increasingly confused and wanted to go home. After arriving at home, Diane still didn’t feel well. She suddenly felt an overwhelming sense of doom.

“I told Rudy to dial 911 and then lost consciousness,” says Diane.

When she opened her eyes, her house was full of first responders. Diane was alert for a short while, but lost consciousness again. Then her heart stopped beating. Paramedics defibrillated Diane once, then again to try to restore her heart beat. They moved her to the floor and started CPR with standard hands-on compressions.

Fortunately, the paramedics had with them a Lucas device – a portable, battery-operated chest compression machine – that they were able to use on Diane.

“Hands-on CPR is very difficult to do, especially in a moving ambulance. Going around turns, speeding up, slowing down, it’s nearly impossible to maintain a consistent rhythm,” explains Dr. Schultz.

The Lucas device demonstrated during training.

That’s what the Lucas device does. It provides the consistent rhythm to ensure an uninterrupted flow of blood and oxygen to the patient’s heart and brain. That helps avoid neurological damage and also frees up rescue personnel to focus on other tasks without a pause or gap in compressions. ProHealth Care has four Lucas devices that were purchased through donations to the ProHealth Care Foundation.

When the ambulance with Diane arrived at Waukesha Memorial, her condition was grave. Only the Lucas device was keeping her alive.

Diane’s heart had not been beating on its own since 4:21 p.m. She arrived at ProHealth Waukesha Memorial Hospital’s Emergency Department at 5:06 p.m.

“That’s a fairly long time for a heart to just be sitting there,” Dr. Schultz says. “But the key is that the Lucas device was keeping her brain hanging on by continuing the circulation.  If we turned it off, she would die. But when we turned it back on she had a pulse.”

Dr. Schultz consulted with the cardiologists on call, and it was decided to use an aggressive treatment and get Diane to the heart catheterization lab immediately. With the Lucas device still attached to Diane, what happened next was far from routine.

Edward Lovas, manager for the interventional departments at ProHealth Care and a registered cardiovascular invasive specialist, explains what happened when Diane was in the cardiac cath lab.

“In the old days, when you had a heart attack they put you in a room and gave you some medicine and hoped for the best result,” Edward says. “Today, we may be able to actually stop that heart attack in its tracks by opening the blocked artery. We visualize their coronary artery, find where the blockage is, open it and put in a stent.”

But it is extremely rare to perform a heart catheterization while the patient is still hooked up to a Lucas device.

“In the country and in the world, there have been reports of this being done. The first in about 2011,” says Dr. Schultz. “But it’s certainly not done very often. It’s the first we’ve done at Waukesha Memorial.”

The interventional cardiologist was able to find the blocked artery, pass the guide wire and insert the balloon all while the heart and chest were moving with the assistance of the Lucas. Additionally, a temporary pacemaker and a balloon pump were placed in the aorta, all while the Lucas was operating.

Dr. Schultz – who was in the cath lab during the procedure – explained that Diane initially experienced problems maintaining her pulse without the Lucas. Each time it was turned back on she had a pulse – when it was switched off, she didn’t.

The Lucas provides consistent rhythm to ensure an uninterrupted flow of blood and oxygen to the patient’s heart and brain.

“We stood back and had the conversation that either it was going to work or it wasn’t. We couldn’t go on like this forever,” Dr. Schultz says. “The cause of the cardiac arrest was fixed, but was there too much damage?”

Then slowly – very slowly – Diane’s heart rate started to pick up on its own. Her blood pressure began to creep up in what seemed like minute increments.

“We were in the best situation we had been in in 2 ½ hours,” Dr. Schultz says. “We turned Lucas off for good.”

Their efforts proved successful.  Diane’s heart was beating on its own, maintaining a low but present blood pressure that continued to improve.

* * *

Now, just over a year later, Diane’s life is almost back to normal.

“I don’t recall much of anything that happened until days after I woke up in the hospital ICU,” she says. “I had tubes everywhere and was conscious for just short periods of time at first. My doctors have pieced things together for me.”

She is grateful for each day, and to still be around to enjoy her children and grandchildren. Through it all Diane has stayed positive. 

“I make accommodations about what I can and can’t do, but that’s what life is all about. And at least I’m here,” she says, adding, “I’m kind of a miracle, you know?”