Great Teamwork Leads to Positive Outcome for Local Farmer after Heart Attack

Eric and Karen Sanders

Karen Sanders knew something was wrong when her husband Eric showed up at home unexpectedly in the middle of the day. She was off work that Friday in April 2023, preparing to host family for Easter weekend festivities.

Eric, a sheet metal welder and farmer, headed home after he began to feel strange that morning. He knew it wasn’t indigestion and that something wasn’t right.

“He came in the door and looked very pale,” Karen recalled. “He got a glass of water, and then said, ‘I don’t feel very good’ and immediately laid down on the floor.”

Concerned, Karen told him to get in the car, and they headed from their home in rural Nokomis to Taylorville Memorial Hospital (TMH).

“He never complains about not feeling well,” she said about her husband of 30+ years. “He had just had a physical in February, and the only issue was slightly elevated blood pressure. But when he said to go faster, I knew something was wrong.”

Eric entered the Emergency Department with few symptoms – no shortness of breath, no dizziness, no headache, no nausea, no burning sensation – but he was experiencing what he described as a stabbing pain like a sharp knife in the middle of his chest.

The ED team at TMH put him through an immediate battery of cardiac tests. His EKG and bloodwork came back normal, so the team assessed for blood clots, pulmonary embolism and gastrointestinal issues. All results were satisfactory, but he continued to experience a knife-like pain in his chest.

Physician assistant Brittany Campbell felt something wasn’t right, and she wasn’t comfortable sending Eric home. She consulted Springfield Clinic cardiologist Nileshkumar Patel in the cardiology department at Springfield Memorial Hospital (SMH), who agreed. Dr. Patel decided to transfer Eric to SMH overnight and schedule a stress test for the following morning.

“When I got to Springfield, they ran all the blood tests again, and those returned normal too,” Eric said. “My vitals were good, and the chest pain was gone. I was starving by that point so I had dinner at 9 p.m. – salmon, roasted potatoes, asparagus.”

Karen spent the night with him. At 4 a.m. staff drew blood, and at 6 a.m. Dr. Patel came in with news: there would be no stress test.

Eric’s troponin levels were extremely elevated, and Dr. Patel told the couple he had probably experienced a heart attack the day before despite not exhibiting usual heart attack symptoms.

By 8:30 that morning, Eric was taken into surgery, where he underwent light sedation for a heart cath. Dr. Patel found significant plaque buildup and put in three stents to clear blockages. Fortunately, he didn’t discover any heart damage.

By Easter Sunday, Eric was able to return home, with his only restriction being no driving large farm equipment. He didn’t even require cardiac rehabilitation.

A month later, Eric and Karen met with Dr. Patel, who told him he looked phenomenal.

“He asked me if I had any corn planted yet, and I told him I was getting ready to go the next day,” Eric said. “Dr. Patel said, ‘Turn her loose, then!’ That’s what I wanted to hear!”

A year later, Eric and Karen, as well as their two grown children, Griffen and McKenna, remain grateful for the care Eric received at TMH and SMH.

Eric and Karen Sanders family

Karen can’t speak highly enough of Brittany Campbell’s role that Good Friday.

“We got excellent healthcare in our own backyard,” she said. “Brittany was checking and double-checking everything. She went through all the options and exhausted all the possibilities.”

Meanwhile, Eric has two planting seasons under his belt since that day in 2023. He received a clean bill of health recently, and he knows there could have been a different outcome.

“God had a plan for me,” he said. “I wasn’t in the field that day but near home. Everyone in the ED, from the nurses to the techs to Brittany, were outstanding. The cardiac nursing team and Dr. Patel at SMH were also phenomenal. I’m just grateful.”