Tuesday, December 24, 2019 | 12:01 AM
When Mike Zdinak gets up every day, greets his family and then goes to work as a special education teacher at Poff Elementary in Hampton Township, it’s all very meaningful to him.
That’s because about a year ago, he suffered a cardiac arrest and, as one of his doctors put it, basically died.
It happened in fall of 2018, when Mike of Ross Township left work early because he wasn’t feeling well.
Before heading home, he stopped to pick up his daughter’s first pair of glasses at a store in Ross Township. It was there he suffered a major heart attack.
The response was quick. The staff at the store called Ross/West View emergency medical services and CPR was performed on him immediately, which was vital. Then, the EMS crew transported him to the emergency room at UPMC Passavant Hospital in McCandless.
Because of the convenience of the hospital’s North Hills location and the extensive cardiovascular services available there, Mike, 41, immediately received the important treatment he needed.
Timing was of the essence, according to Dr. Thomas Rice, one of the pulmonary critical care physicians working in the intensive care unit that day. In Zdinak’s case, it was one of those heart attacks that usually do not have a good outcome.
“He didn’t just have a heart attack. He died of a cardiac arrest,” the doctor said.
Rice said he suffered from a blockage in a major heart artery in what is commonly termed “the widowmaker.”
They put in a heart stent, and Mike was sent to the intensive care unit at Passavant.
Rice explained that cardiac arrest isn’t the worst of these situations. It’s the damage done to the brain, which suffers a lack of oxygen and basically stops working. It’s the first organ damaged.
Many times, people may survive a cardiac arrest, but their brain suffered too much damage and they never wake up, remaining in a vegetative state, he said. And when someone suffers a cardiac arrest outside the hospital, as in Zdinak’s case, the consequences are even more serious.
Mike’s brain and other organs were closely monitored for 48 hours while he was in the ICU.
Rice said Mike was lucky that CPR was performed on him quickly and the EMS crew was able to shock his heart back into beating.
During this whole ordeal, Mike’s wife, Lynn, who was volunteering at her children’s school, was called. She quickly came to the hospital, with staff meeting with her to discuss the issue and the possibility of brain damage. He was in the ICU for 25 days.
But Mike was very, very lucky.
Mike and Lynn have three children, Addison, 10, Grayson, 6, and Mayzie, 4. He said he doesn’t remember much of the whole episode except having heartburn the day prior to the heart attack.
Rice said care happens quickly once a person is admitted to the hospital for a cardiac arrest. For instance, one of the procedures done to help Mike included providing therapeutic hypothermia for the treatment of post-cardiac arrest, which cools down the body and lowers the metabolic activity, slowing the body function.
What’s amazing is that Zdinak is back to work and teaching, said Rice, who has been at Passavant hospital for more than six years and, prior to that, at UPMC Presbyterian Hospital in Oakland.
“This is an unbelievable case,” he said.
Lynn agreed. “Timelines are very important. Thank God for first responders and UPMC.”
“It still seems sometimes that there are certain moments that sink in that I shouldn’t be here,” said Mike. “I remember nothing. I say my care was top-notch because I’m talking with you, and I don’t know if it gets any better.”
Lynn also said she “can’t say enough about how wonderful the staff was,” including talking to her about their options.
Susan Hoolahan, president of UPMC Passavant, said that is one of the goals at the hospital.
“Our patients know that the people there really care about them,” she said. “We try very hard to have that friendly atmosphere.”
Hoolahan said the McCandless campus offers an extensive cardiovascular program. This includes a very well-equipped emergency room which benefited Mike.
Mike had outpatient care for a while after being released from the hospital and said he’s taking care of himself and living with a “new lease on life.” That includes partaking in the YMCA Turkey Trot in Pittsburgh recently.
Lynn, 41, said “We are living life to the fullest. Don’t sweat the small stuff.”
A couple of days prior to his cardiac arrest, Mike and Lynn won tickets to the front row of the play “Hamilton.” Unfortunately, he doesn’t remember it, but Mike said there’s an upside to that.
If they get to go again, “I’ll be the first person to see it twice for the first time,” he said.