by Dennis Dalman
Because of a sudden heart attack, Bruce Theisen of Sartell lost two days of his life to an oblivion close to death, but he’s happy to be back from that brink.
Most of all, he is thankful for the two Sartell police officers who coaxed his stopped heart back to life by using a defibrillator. If it were not for them, he would surely be a goner. Those two officers – John Lester and Jarod Cooper – were honored with “Life Saver Awards” at a recent Sartell City Council meeting. The officers and Theisen were also honored by “Take Heart,” a program of the Central Minnesota Sudden Cardiac Arrest Survivors’ Network.
Theisen never tires of informing others about the warning signs of impending heart attacks and the importance of getting check-ups to learn one’s own heart status.
In his own case, he can only remember having, at most, one of the possible signs of an imminent cardiac arrest: an unpleasant digestive heartburn sensation.
Last August, Theisen, wife Wendy, friends and family enjoyed a camping trip on Long Lake near Paynesville. Back home on a Sunday, he put his camper away. At 9:45 p.m., he chatted for awhile with Wendy, who was writing on the computer.
“I’m going to bed,” he told her.
“I’ll be there in a bit,” she said.
At 2:30 a.m. Wendy woke up, flopped her arm across the bed and was surprised to find Bruce was not there, in bed. She got up and saw him sitting on the living-room couch. She thought she heard him say, “I have a chest pain. Would you get me a Tums?”
She went to get an antacid pill and a glass of water. When she returned to the living room, her husband was face-down on the floor. Panicking, she checked him. No breath. She called 911.
The first on the scene, just a minute or so after the call, were the police. They quickly saw how serious the case was. The victim wasn’t blue; he was purple. The two officers, carrying the portable defibrillator, applied shocks to Theisen’s apparently lifeless body again and again. And finally, his heart began to beat, and an ambulance whisked him off to the hospital.
Waking up two days later in the hospital, Theisen looked around, utterly puzzled.
“What happened,” he asked.
You had a heart attack,” he was told by a doctor. “Did you see that bright white light?”
“No, I didn’t see anything,” he said. “I was just plain gone.”
He learned they had put a stent in an artery that had been completely blocked, causing the attack.
“I’m 59 and never had heart problems,” Theisen told the Newsleader in a recent interview. “I don’t smoke. Never did. I weigh 180 pounds. I’m not a couch potato. In fact, I’m fairly active, not the type who likes to sit around. The day of the heart attack, I was paddle-boating on Long Lake and didn’t get the least bit tired.”
If it hadn’t been for Wendy waking up that night, Theisen would have certainly died. If the heart attack had happened at 5 a.m., instead of 2:30 a.m., he most likely would have also died. That’s because Wendy, who starts a very early shift at McDonald’s on St. Cloud’s Division Street, would have been at work. There would have been nobody around to call 911.
Theisen said he is still so grateful for his wife being there and for the two officers who saved his life.
His daughter, Lisa Dehn, told him God did not want him quite yet because he has to keep living so he can bond with his new granddaughter, Kiera, the daughter of Lisa.
“I think that’s true,” Theisen said. “After all, Kiera is granddaddy’s little girl.”
The Theisens have three children – Lisa, Chris and Bradley. They have four grandchildren.
“I really do feel as if I have a new lease on life, like they say,” Theisen said. “I say to my wife things that used to seem so important are now at the bottom of my list. Things like cutting the lawn and working on cars. I can always get those things done. What’s more important is family and friends. I lost a niece to breast cancer and that taught me something about mortality. And now I have a second chance at life.”
Theisen has been learning a lot about how to live a healthy lifestyle. Even though he did not have a lot of heart-attack behavior risks before, he is learning how to eat more wisely – less fats, less sugar, less salt, less calories.
“I used to love eating ice cream every night,” he said. “Now it’s once a week. I like eating at McDonald’s, but now I cut back on the fries. I eat a lot more chicken and fishburgers. I also take vitamins.”
Theisen grew up in the “good old days,” so-called, when people almost never went to a doctor.
“I never got check-ups,” he said. “I felt just fine.”
But now Theisen urges everyone who will listen to get check-ups and to learn about heart-healthy ways to live, including diet, exercise and learning the signs of heart danger. Such signs include heavy pressure in the chest or a feeling of severe heartburn, numbness in the body, especially in the left arm; light-headedness or dizziness; a sudden slurring of speech; sudden memory loss and/or a wavering blurry vision. It is also good, he said, to take a 81-milligram baby aspirin every day, if the doctor suggests it.
“You’ve got to learn to pay attention to your body,” he said. “It may be trying to tell you something.”