Around 11 p.m. on Oct. 19, 2017, Judy Gronniger awoke to what she thought was her husband’s snoring.
When Jeff wouldn’t awaken, she quickly recognized that he was going into cardiac arrest and began performing CPR until the ambulance arrived. It took 14 shocks with a defibrillator to restart his heart before he could be transported to Ascension Via Christi St. Francis’s Cardiac Intensive Care Unit.
On Oct. 19, 2018, Jeff walked back into the CICU with his family to thank and recognize the nursing staff who saved his life and fill in the gaps in his memory.
Hypothermia is therapeutic
“From what I have been told, it sounds like my body went through quite a traumatic event,” says Jeff, now fully recovered from the
cardiac arrest caused by a heart rhythm disorder that caused irregular electrical impulses in the lower chamber of his heart.
Jeff does not remember his 15-day CICU stay. Nor does not remember being put into a medically induced coma and on a ventilator while undergoing therapeutic hypothermia—a treatment used in the first six hours following cardiac arrest that drops the body temperature as low as 89 degrees Fahrenheit. It acts as an “ice pack” for the brain and organs, protecting them from further damage from the body’s recent lack of oxygen.
Kindness, empathy and compassion
Angela Cammarn was one of the nurses who cared for Jeff during his first three critical days--and extended that care to his family as well.
“I try to put three things into practice: kindness, empathy and compassion. You can’t imagine what a patient or their family has to go through,” said Cammarn.
Mary Meadows, RN and CICU nurse manager said: “Jeff wasn’t aware of the situation, but his wife and kids were so scared. It was important to be there for them and to comfort them.”
Judy says the doctors and nursing staff were “magnificent” and was blown away by the special care and attention her family received from the Via Christi care team.
“We were all terrified, our two young kids witnessed the whole thing,” Judy said. “Angela and Mary took the time to explain what was happening with Jeff and to understand what we were going through.”
This wasn’t the first time the this type of incident made an impression on the Gronnigers. Meagan Koenigs, who seven years earlier went into cardiac arrest and received hypothermia treatment at the same CICU and was cared for by some of the same nurses as Jeff. Like Judy, Meagan’s spouse, Craig, administered CPR until the ambulance arrived. Craig coaches Goddard Junior baseball with Jeff.
“What are the chances that two people, who are connected in one way or another, go through the same exact thing?” says Meagan. “It is eerily like my story.”
Jeff was released from the CICU on Nov. 3, 2017. He had an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator --- which continues to monitor the pulse and send electrical signals when needed --- but does not suffer from any other serious long-term effects. He gets fatigued easier now and has a sensitivity to cold from the treatment. He sometimes feels soreness on the left side of his chest from CPR. He’s grateful for the community and friends that rallied and supported him during and after the incident. Jeff has become an advocate for the power of CPR and the power of prayer. He now lives each day with a refreshed outlook on life.
“I don’t stress out about much stuff anymore,” Jeff said. “I’m more conscious about my health and I’ve lost 42 pounds since it happened.”
Jeff and Judy are most thankful for the support, power of prayer, God and the staff who helped them through this life-changing experience.
The ‘best gift’
One year after Jeff’s incident, the CICU nurses present --- Mary Meadows, Sarah Bergley, Dawn McAdam and Maria Maus --- were welcomed with a card, flowers, and lots of hugs and appreciation from the Gronnigers.
“The best gift we can receive as nurses is when patients come and say thank you,” Cammarn said.
“We occasionally get patients who come back and thank us, but not very often,” Meadows said. “When we get someone who comes back, it makes what we do all the worthwhile.”
The staff recognized that the Gronnigers value family and made sure to connect with them on that level. Angela took the time to connect with one of Jeff’s sons by educating him further about the medical field, one of his future interests.
“They treated us like family,” says Jeff. “It was a very moving experience.”