Northland man's heart-stopping story has happy endingEven in an audience of people who routinely deal with medical emergencies, Bart Beyer’s story prompted gasps, tears and applause.
By: John Lundy, Duluth News Tribune
Even in an audience of people who routinely deal with medical emergencies, Bart Beyer’s story prompted gasps, tears and applause.
Beyer, 57, of Duluth, experienced a severe heart attack in a bad location: while fishing the Cloquet River by canoe in wilderness 15 miles north of Island Lake.
But Beyer had two things going for him on the morning of May 14: First, his son, Joshua Beyer, 33, was with him. Second, each of the emergency personnel who responded did all the right things, and fast.
That’s the evaluation of Richard Mullvain, heart attack program manager for Essentia Health St. Mary’s Medical Center. The medical response over 105 frantic minutes that morning was done so well — and had such a happy ending — that Mullvain made Beyer’s story the centerpiece of a regional conference Friday at Barker’s Island Inn in Superior attended by about 170 people.
“That’s what this conference is about, getting all of the players together: the 911 operators, the hospitals, the ambulances, to get that patient to the (catheterization) lab, where we open up the blocked artery, faster, to save heart muscle and save lives,” Mullvain said.
Bart Beyer, wife Luci Beyer, 62, and Joshua Beyer were featured guests at the post-luncheon presentation along with many of the dozen-plus people involved in getting Beyer the care he needed. Mullvain summoned the rescuers to the front of the inn’s conference room as he offered a minute-by-minute narrative of the lifesaving operation.
Bart and Joshua Beyer left the Carroll Trail boat landing on the Cloquet River about 7 a.m. that day, planning to fish their way to the family cabin about 4 miles upriver. The senior Beyer first experienced chest pains about 15 minutes later, but the pair kept fishing.
At 8 a.m., with the pain getting worse, they paddled to shore about 2.2 miles from the landing and walked up the bank so Bart Beyer could try to catch his breath. He knew he was having the symptoms of a heart attack, he said later.
By 8:15, Joshua Beyer had given his dad an aspirin, and he tried to call 911, but there was no cell-phone signal. So he carried his dad, who was by now semi-conscious, back to the canoe and paddled out into the water.
He got through to 911 at 8:34 a.m., and emergency medical services were dispatched at 8:37 a.m. Meanwhile, Josh Beyer started the canoe’s 2-horsepower engine and headed toward the landing. But at 8:40 he hit a sandbar, the motor intake filled with sand and the engine overheated. He tried so hard to restart the engine that his hands started to bleed. Giving up on the motor, he began paddling the remaining 1.7 miles to the landing. By 8:50, Bart Beyer was starting to fade, and Josh Beyer used the paddle to splash water on his dad’s face, trying to keep him conscious.
“He started getting kind of grumpy, and I apologized, ‘Sorry, sorry,’ I told him, even though I was doing it on purpose,” Josh Beyer said later, grinning.
His father was unconscious by the time Josh Beyer got the canoe back to the landing at 9:11 a.m. A Gold Cross ambulance crew was there to meet them, along with volunteers from the St. Louis County Sheriff’s Rescue Squad and the Gnesen Volunteer Fire Department. Four minutes later, a Life Link III helicopter landed nearby.
Before airlifting Bart, the paramedic took an ECG and confirmed that the form of heart attack he was suffering was a STEMI. That’s an acronym for ST Segment Elevation Myocardial Infarction, which is what Friday’s conference was particularly concerned with, Mullvain said.
The chopper took off at 9:26. It landed at St. Mary’s at 9:38, and at 9:42 a.m. Beyer was wheeled into the catheterization lab, where procedures such as angioplasties can be performed to open blocked arteries.
But there was a problem. Beyer went into ventricular fibrillation arrest — his heart stopped. His heart was shocked back into action. But then it happened again. And again.
“We shocked him 24 times,” Mullvain said, as an audible gasp rose across the conference room. “In laymen’s terms, he died 24 times right in front of us.”
Looking at Beyer, Mullvain said, “Somehow, we got you through that.”
Although he suffered a second heart attack nine days later, Beyer was out of the hospital 16 days after his ill-fated fishing trip. He still feels a little weak, he said, but he has been able to go fishing again.
A man of few words, Beyer offered a brief comment to Friday’s audience.
“I’m very happy to be here,” he said.