An Unstoppable Heart: How George Rudis Beat Death Three Times

George-RudisOn Oct. 8, 2013, George Rudis began his day the way he always does—with a run at the Sacred Heart-Griffin track. For the 62-year-old Springfield native and lifelong athlete in training for a marathon, everything seemed normal.

“I got up like I do every day, got to the track and we ran our first mile as a warm up,” he said. “I went to check my watch, and, the next thing I knew, I woke up two days later in the hospital. I remember nothing beyond that.”

In the time in between — the time he doesn’t remember — George nearly died three times.

Hear George Tell His Story

The Heart Attack

In movies, heart attacks are usually accompanied by a sudden and dramatic pain in the arm or chest. But, for George, it wasn’t like that at all. In fact, he doesn’t recall experiencing any symptoms.

“I was feeling fine. I’d get a little tired and groggy in the afternoons, but I thought I was just getting older,” he said. “I’ve always tried to take care of myself and keep myself in shape. It had always worked out, but for some reason, not on that day.”

On that day, during their run, George’s friend and running partner, Mike Ryan, heard a thump. That thump was George hitting the ground. Ryan ran to get help, and along the way he ran into Gregg Kyes, a fellow runner who fortunately knows CPR. In another lucky break, an ambulance happened to be nearby and arrived within minutes. But, even with the speedy CPR and EMT arrival, George’s chances didn’t look good.

“Attempts to revive him had been unsuccessful, and that’s usually not a good sign for survivability,” said David Griffen, MD, specialist in emergency medicine, president of the MMC medical staff and chair of the Division of Emergency Medicine for SIU School of Medicine. “But something told me that we had a chance for him.”

Arrival at Memorial Medical Center

Upon arrival at Memorial Medical Center’s Emergency Department, George’s heart was fibrillating – or twitching – and not pumping any blood, just moving blood around “like a can of worms.”

Two technicians performed CPR on George until he his heart was able to be shocked into beginning to pump again. That’s when the team at MMC launched its Star 80 program, designed to quickly get patients suffering a heart attack into the Cardiac Cath Lab, where he flatlined for the second time that day. Two stents were put in to open up George’s clogged arteries.

“The Emergency Department team worked together flawlessly,” Dr. Griffen said.

The Situation Escalates

After things calmed down, George’s family went home for the night. Then, at 3 a.m., the hospital called. They were losing George again. One of his stents was malfunctioning.

That’s when Stephen Chen, MD, interventional cardiologist with Springfield Clinic, administered a third stent. And he did so blindly.

“He couldn’t see through the ultrasound because of all the bleeding, so he just felt around,” George said. “When he was done, the whole room applauded. It was an incredible experience, so I’m told. And I’m living proof of that.”

In addition to three stents, George also has an internal defibrillator serving as, as he puts it, his “auxiliary jumper cables.”

Living to Tell the Story

Crediting the whole MMC team, George is grateful for the care he received—care he’ll never remember but will also never forget. He has been able to meet and thank most everyone involved with his care, from Kyes, his CPR savior, to Becky Farley, one of his ICU nurses.

“This is why I’m a nurse,” Farley said with tears in her eyes. “Getting to meet George and seeing he’s OK is one of the best moments of my career.”

George’s Memorial experience hasn’t been limited to his time in the hospital. In November, he began cardiac rehab at Memorial’s Koke Mill Outpatient Rehab. In addition to physical exercise, George also worked with the team’s dietitians. He continues to monitor his diet and has minimized the amount of sodium he consumes.

This rehabilitation has been a positive experience for George, who scoffs at being told to “take it easy.”

“You’d have better luck with a Clydesdale,” he said.

Currently, George is in Memorial’s Phase 3 Cardiopulmonary Rehab, located at the Gus and Flora Kerasotes YMCA. He has resumed his marathon training and also does a variety of fitness classes, including ballet and yoga.

Reflections on Saving a Life

His experience has left a lasting impression on his entire care team.

“We are very thankful,” Dr. Griffen said. “This is exactly why we do what we do. We are very grateful that he was our patient.”

The feeling is mutual, and, for George, he knows his experience speaks to an entire Memorial culture.

“There’s an environment here where everybody looks at the positive. They love what they do and care deeply about getting done what they need to get done for the patients,” he said. “What can I say but thank you? I sincerely appreciate what they have done for me, for my family, for all the people who came before me and all who come after me.”