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Updated 10:00 AM February 19, 2007




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Life of MAIS employee saved by quick response
from co-workers, DPS and medical team

U-M support manager Virginia Geren collapsed during a meeting last October and woke up five days later to see family surrounding her hospital bed.

"My response was, 'Oh my, I did it again'," she says—as she had survived a heart attack 16 years earlier.
Virginia Geren, left, poses with Roxy Block, a Michigan Administrative Information Services manager, at a MAIS thank you lunch Jan. 29. Block performed CPR on Geren until Department of Public Safety officers arrived on the scene. On Feb. 14, Block and several other U-M staff members who aided Geren received citations from DPS for their actions. (Photo by Deborah Mero)

Now, during American Heart Month, Geren, 63, says, "I'm pretty much back to normal," thanks to the speedy action of Michigan Administrative Information Services (MAIS) co-workers and Department of Public Safety officers, and her emergency treatment at U-M Hospital—which included a new cooling treatment that protected her brain.

What happened on that October day technically wasn't a heart attack. It was a sudden rhythm disturbance that caused her heart to beat too fast, called tachycardia. It later brought on a cardiac arrest.

Dr. Robert Silbergleit, emergency medicine, and the Emergency Department team cooled Geren's blood by using a probe or catheter inserted into the bloodstream. The goal was to reduce the brain damage that can result from low blood-oxygen levels during a cardiac arrest. Geren was one of the hospital's first patients to be treated with the system.

"It's not an overstatement to say that she was resuscitated from the clutches of death," says Silbergleit. "To survive a cardiac arrest, patients like her need rapid treatment, with everything coming together in the right way. In her case, it absolutely did—and we were able to protect her brain through cooling treatment as well as protecting her heart and body."

Her post-emergency treatment included the installation of a cardioverter-defibrillator—a second device implanted in her chest, as she had received a pacemaker following a 1990 heart attack. The newer device is capable of shocking her heart back into normal rhythm if it beats too quickly.

Geren was in a meeting at the MAIS Financials Division when she blacked out. "I interviewed a lot of people to piece together the story," she says now.

Geren thanks her co-workers, particularly Pamela Fons, assistant director of the Financial Division, who dialed 911, and Roxy Block, who administered CPR until DPS arrived.

"They were aware of my prior heart history; there was no debate about what was wrong—Pam jumped up and dialed 911," Geren says. "The DPS people got on it immediately, because time is of the essence when you're in a situation where the patient is in cardiac arrest."

Statistics show that the death rate goes up 10 percent for each minute a patient in this situation awaits treatment.

Sgt. Gerry Steiner and Officer Kurt Kohtz were the first responders. Kohtz applied Automatic External Defibrillator (AED) connections to shock her heart and administered chest compressions as Steiner began rescue breathing. Each DPS officer on road patrol carries an AED during each shift.

"Although I was unconscious, I was breathing and had a pulse when they were done," Geren says.

"Ms. Geren's case is pretty unique because she had a very similar episode years ago in which she suffered a cardiac arrest, was resuscitated and received an implanted device. She's a very lucky person," says cardiologist Dr. Mauro Moscucci, who took care of Geren during her stay at University Hospital this year and in 1990. Geren was treated by Cardiovascular Center teams in the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit and the 7th floor cardiology telemetry unit.

"I was extremely fortunate to be going to the University Hospital," says Geren, who after 37 years retired from U-M at the end of January. She attends regular exercise classes to promote cardiology rehabilitation.

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