Sonny Elam, from North Carolina, suffered a heart attack while in his friend’s deer stand in Randolph County. EMTs retrieved Elam from the stand and rushed him to the catheterization lab at Phoebe Putney Hospital where a stent was installed in a coronary artery.
BROOKSVILLE -- Sonny Elam and his wife, Harvalyn, were down from Franklin, N.C., last week, visiting their Randolph County friends, Ron and Dottie Stephens, when Elam decided he'd like one more chance for a big buck deer.
Hopping in a truck and grabbing a rifle, Elam traveled to the most distant of the several deer stands on Ron Stephens' 300 acre "back yard."
A good part of the day had passed, according to Elam, with still no sight of a deer, when the 76-year-old hunter began to experience an increasingly severe pain in the center of his chest. Elam quickly realized that something was "bad wrong."
Fortunately for Elam, he'd remembered to bring his cell phone which he used to call his wife, and then his friends, but everyone was in the yard and had left their phones inside. A recorded message shows a frantic Elam calling for help.
"The pain was absolutely debilitating," Elam said. "It just got worse and worse. Finally, I figured out I should be calling 911."
Elam's emergency phone call was answered by the Randolph County EMS Station at 3:45 p.m. on Jan. 10, according to Jamie Sauls, director of the Randolph County EMS, and at 3:47 the ambulance was on route with EMT Jimmy Sealy at the wheel and Sauls as passenger and technician.
According to Sauls, the EMTs made the 11-mile trip 19 minutes after the initial call, pulling into the driveway of the Stephens' Brooksville home at 4:04 p.m.
Harvalyn Elam and the Stephenses were taken by surprise by the appearance of the ambulance and the EMTs until Sauls yelled to them they'd had a report of a man in a deer stand who was "sick."
According to Harvalyn Elam, Saul's tone was one of "real urgency." Ron Stephens jumped quickly in his truck and led the EMTs to the deer stand. Meanwhile, Elam had almost convinced himself he would die atop the 19-foot stand, facing a field of wild turnips.
"The pain was still getting worse," Elam said, "and I couldn't stand up. I was praying, too. I knew that (Ron Stephens) wouldn't be coming for me because I'd asked him not to. I asked God not to let me die in a deer stand out in the woods."
A mile and a half onto the land, the EMTs and the others found Elam, alive and "in more pain than I've had in all my life." Sauls climbed the stand and helped Elam to his feet, even though she "didn't really know how to get him down."
"About that time I told her I had to throw up," Elam said, "She pointed and told me 'that way.' I went that way and covered the bushes. When I did I felt a lot better. I was even able to walk down from the stand."
On the way out from the woods, Elam was wired to a high-tech 12-lead EKG machine for the purpose of determining whether he was experiencing an actual heart attack and if so, the medical particulars associated with the attack. When it was clear that Elam had suffered a myocardial infarction, or blockage of blood to the heart, the EMTs administered aspirin, which can sometimes be of help, especially when the attack is caused by a blood clot, and also nitroglycerin, which can work by dilating vessels to the heart. Neither of those on-the-spot treatments provided patient relief, according to Elam.
The 12-lead EKG machine was given to Randolph and other south Georgia counties in 2008, by Phoebe Putney Hospital, to improve their emergency response and to save lives, according to Craig Mitchell, M.D., cardiologist at Phoebe. Mitchell said that not only is the devise capable of diagnosing the MI, but can also transmit the results of its findings to the hospital catheterization lab while in route, so the patient can be delivered straight to the cath lab, saving valuable time otherwise spent at the emergency center.
"We do our best to work within a 90-minute window from the time the patient arrives at the hospital," Mitchell said. "From the first second that blood is blocked from the heart, the heart begins to die. As a general rule, if we can effectively treat the patient within that 90 minutes then damage can be held to a minimum."
According to Mitchell, the "door to balloon" time in treating Elam was held to just 23 minutes. Door to balloon refers to the total time a cardiac patient spends in treatment from entry to when the angioplasty, or emergency widening of the coronary artery is performed, Mitchell said.
Before arriving at the Phoebe cath lab, the 12-lead EKG machine had determined that Elam had experienced a "100 percent blockage" of one of his coronary arteries. To fix the problem, a special "stent" was installed inside the vessel to allow greater blood flow.
"I feel great," said Elam, who was out of bed and walking Thursday.
Elam will return to Phoebe in four weeks, he said, for more tests and further evaluation before receiving a referral to a cardiologist closer to his home. For now the patient will diligently take the "medicine soup," prescribed by Mitchell and be more careful of his diet, he said.
He hasn't given up on that big buck, Elam said, just putting it off till next season.