A rare cardiac arrest that could have easily ended in death instead shined
a bright light on the teamwork and professionalism of the Mid-Columbia
Medical Center staff.
Last spring, Peter Sirovatka was enjoying his usual Sunday morning breakfast
in MCMC’s Atrium Falls cafeteria with his wife, Sharon, a hospital
switchboard operator, when he suddenly fell over.
Sharon shouted for a cafeteria worker to call a code blue (the signal for
a cardiac arrest) over the intercom. The first nurse to arrive assumed
Peter was choking and started performing the Heimlich maneuver.
Hospitalist Dr. Tom Nichol arrived quickly and cleared Peter’s airway,
expecting him to take a big gasp and begin breathing on his own.
Instead, 65-year-old Peter laid lifeless without a pulse, while his wife
looked on helplessly.
An MCMC nurse and respiratory therapist began CPR and Peter began to respond
as soon as they stopped the chest compressions, he stopped breathing and talking.
By now, a hospital team had flooded the cafeteria to lend support. Nurses
arrived from the ER, ICU and operating room. A pharmacist brought the
The team hooked up Peter to a monitor and discovered his heart was in ventricular
fibrillation. They shocked him with paddles.
“Normally, with one shock, they come back, but he didn’t,”
Dr. Nichol said.
That would begin 49 minutes of work on Peter, alternating with CPR, medication
and defibrillating his heart. It was twice as long as a team would generally
administer CPR, but the staff couldn’t kick-start his heart and
generate a pulse.
As they began to run out of options, they moved him upstairs to the emergency
room. Dr. Nichol walked with Sharon, telling her he didn’t think
the medical staff could do much more.
Finally, a seventh shock in the ER produced the heart rhythm and pulse
they were seeking. Everyone was relieved. It appeared their co-worker’s
spouse had been saved, without damage to his kidneys and heart.
However, 45 minutes later in the ICU, Peter was in trouble again. His blood
pressure dropped to a profoundly low level and his heart beat erratically.
He’d gone into atrial fibrillation.
Once again, everyone pitched in and they were able to stabilize Peter.
“I was so proud of our hospital staff. The amount of effort by everybody
was amazing. We worked beautifully as a team,” Dr. Nichol said.
As the doctor took a short break, he realized how emotional the ordeal
had been. “I felt the tears well up because I realized how easily
we could have lost him,” Dr. Nichol said.
It was the first time since Dr. Nichol joined the MCMC staff in 1989 that
he’d cared for a non-patient experiencing sudden cardiac death at
If Peter had been anywhere else that morning, his chances of survival would
have been dramatically reduced. It’s a fact Peter is well aware
of — two of his brothers died of cardiac arrest before they reached
the age of 65.
“I can’t express the debt of gratitude I have for the team
of MCMC professionals that didn’t give up,” Peter said. “It’s
an incredible resource we have in this community.”
Sharon said she was impressed with the compassion and skill displayed by
the staff. “The care we got was amazing,” she said.
After a weeklong stay at MCMC, Peter was transferred to Oregon Health &
Science University in Portland for further tests. They confirmed the cardiac
arrest was an electrical issue in his heart, not the result of clogged
arteries or valves.
The staff there inserted an internal cardiac defibrillator in his chest.
If he should go into cardiac arrest again, the device will activate and
shock his heart back into a rhythmic operating mode.
Sharon continues to take calls on the switchboard and meet her husband
at the hospital cafeteria for their standing Sunday morning breakfast date.
Dr. Nichol hopes the sharing of this story will inspire others to take
CPR courses because the chest compressions saved Peter’s life.