Quick action by many helps lobbyist survive heart attack
Tom Vickers, former State Sen., and now lobbyist, recovers after emergency surgery at St. Elizabeth Regional Medical Center. Vickers had a heart attack at the Capitol. State Sen. Mike Flood, Speaker of the Legislature rushed to Vickers with an automated external defibrillator where the legislature's doctor of the day, Dale Michels, used the device to restart Vickers heart. (Ted Kirk)

Lobbyist Tom Vickers grabbed the attention of legislative leaders Wednesday, collapsing from a heart attack outside the speaker’s office.

Vickers survived what cardiologist Joe Gard called a “pulled from the grave” kind of event.

Vickers, speaking from his hospital bed at Saint Elizabeth Regional Medical Center mid-afternoon, said he felt fine, though he looked tired and spoke just above a whisper.

Hours earlier, Dr. Paul Bajwa catheterized Vickers’ troublesome artery, blocked 99 percent.

“I always knew timing was important in politics,” Vickers said, adding it was important to have a heart attack at the right time.

Had he been home in Farnam, had people not seen him go down, had Nebraska’s Speaker Mike Flood not fetched an Automated External Defibrillator, had troopers and Dr. Dale Michels not rushed to his aid …

Vickers, who turns 72 in March, spent 8 years in the Legislature and has lobbied since. He said he’s had no history of heart disease.

He had been awakened by left arm pain Sunday but figured it was a sore joint and had felt nothing since.

At around 9:10 a.m. Wednesday, Vickers bounded up the Capitol stairs, exchanging small talk with a television photographer, then turned to walk past the speaker’s office, felt dizzy and sat down.

Vickers only knows the story secondhand from there.

Flood said he walked out of his office and saw Vickers slumped against the window well in the south hall by the chamber. He saw state troopers lay him on the floor and Michels, the Legislature’s Doctor of the Day, begin chest compressions.

Flood said Vickers was unconscious, had no pulse and was not breathing. He knew there was an AED in the Clerk of the Legislature’s office and ran to get it.

Trooper Wes Peters and Michels put it on Vickers. AEDs fire only if the heart isn’t beating normally — and this one fired.

Flood then ran to get oxygen.

The Legislature is fortunate Michels, of the Lincoln Family Medical Group, was there, Flood said.

Michels and others founded the Doctor of the Day program more than 25 years ago and he comes to the Legislature at least once a year. This was his second time this year.

Most of the time, he said, he checks blood pressure and advises on stuffy noses and minor injuries.

Janice Satra, Executive Board attorney in Sen. Pat Engel’s office, said the defibrillator has been in the clerk’s office since 1999, when it was given to the Legislature after senators passed a bill protecting citizens from liability if they used an AED during an emergency.

Cardiologist Joe Gard, who was at Saint Elizabeth Wednesday for a heart-care seminar, said Vickers’ blockage was in an artery serving the front wall of the heart.

Gard used the spotlight to draw attention to what he called an epidemic of heart disease.

For 25 percent of people with heart disease, their first hint of it occurs when they drop dead. For 35 percent, the first hint is a heart attack. About 40 percent get warnings, but only half of them get classic textbook pains, he said.

The lesson of the day, Gard said: Don’t wait “until you’re at the bottom of the ninth to be saved.”

Get your heart checked.

Reach JoAnne Young at 473-7228 or jyoung@journalstar.com and Mark Andersen at 473-7238 or mandersen@journalstar.com.

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