Winter Park man survives life-threatening heart condition
February 23, 2017
For the past few weeks, Grand County resident Richard Kutner has had an extra pep in his step. Surviving a near death experience will do that to you.
Kutner, who goes by Rick, had a remarkably close brush with death in December, but luckily for him a cohesive crew of medical professionals worked quickly and gave the tall, gregarious Texan a new lease on life.
"It all started on December 6th," said Kutner. "Late in the afternoon I got this feeling in my chest. It just kind of hit me right in a certain spot. The pain reverberated through me."
Kutner said the pain was severe but he did not believe he was having a heart attack and assumed he was being impacted by work stress. Kutner called his personal physician, who ordered him to immediately call 911. Kutner demurred, however, not wanting to endanger first responders in a heavy storm that was impacting the area. He would go to the hospital the next day.
On Dec. 7, after some not-so-gentle prodding by his girlfriend, Kutner went to Middle Park Medical Center – Granby to get checked out.
"I was kicked back, laying on a table in the ER," Kutner said. "They were analyzing me. They had done some blood tests and X-rays and saw something that made them uneasy. They decided to run me through the CT-Scan. All of a sudden they come running around the curtain and pull both my arms out and start sticking IVs in me."
During the scan, staff from the Granby hospital noticed Kutner had what is called an aortic dissection, or a tear in his aorta. Doctor Patrick Rudersdorf was the surgeon at St. Anthony Hospital who led the emergency surgery to repair Kutner's heart. Rudersdorf works in the cardiac and thoracic department at St. Anthony and specializes in exactly the type of surgery Kutner needed.
Rudersdorf explained the gravity of the situation. "Generally speaking 50 percent of patients don't survive the event," said Rudersdorf. "Another 20 to 25 percent don't survive surgery. Once a diagnosis is made, time is of the essence."
An aortic dissection repair is not something the staff at Granby's hospital is equipped to handle. As such, plans were made to send Kutner to St. Anthony as quick as possible. Unfortunately, a heavy snowstorm was hitting northern Colorado at the time. The storm had already grounded Flight for Life helicopters and posed a significant highway hazard.
Luckily for Kutner, Grand County EMS's Dillon Berger and Erik Campbell were ready for the call. Kutner was quick to praise everyone who had a hand in saving his life, but held both Berger and Campbell in especially high regard saying, "they risked their lives to save me." Both Berger and Campbell were aware of immensity of Kutner's condition and how important it was to move quickly.
They explained aortic dissections in layman's terms. "Basically there is a hole in a major blood vessel coming off the heart," said Paramedic Erik Campbell. "It is under an extreme amount of pressure. If you even have a small hole in that blood vessel the potential for bleeding out is great. You could bleed out from it in 30-seconds or less."
During the trip to Denver, Campbell stayed in the back of the ambulance with Kutner, monitoring his vital signs and working to keep him calm; important when dealing with heart issue's like Kutner's that can be exacerbated by stress. Fortunately, Kutner's relaxed and raffish demeanor helped in that department as the two talked about cheeseburgers and milkshakes.
It was Berger who was behind the wheel for the white-knuckle ride.
"When we got to Middle Park it was snowing," Berger said. "On Berthoud, it was blowing snow and visibility was down to about 15 to 20 feet. The roads were as icy as I have ever seen them in 18 years. We are lucky enough to have four-wheel drive ambulances and that makes an enormous difference."
Berger and Campbell managed to get Kutner to St. Anthony over dangerous icy roads without incident to a waiting surgical team.
Kutner's surgery in Denver took 10 hours. According to Dr. Rudersdorf the average length is around eight hours. During the procedure, patients, such as Kutner, have their body temperatures lowered to around 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Medical professionals then stop the patient's heart and lungs from functioning while providing some blood flow to the brain.
After the patient's body is prepared the chest is cut open and the surgeon physical repairs the damaged section of the aorta. With the repair complete the chest is closed back up and the slow process of reintroducing blood and oxygen and reheating the body takes place. Rudersdorf said the repair work usually takes around two-hours and most of the time is spent cooling and heating the patient's body.
After Kutner's surgery was completed he said he remembered waking up in his hospital bed and noticed his chest was not sore. "To this day all I have had to use is Aleve," he said.
Kutner said he is still regaining his strength and rebuilding his muscle memory, and the truth is he has plenty of rehabilitation and recovery work ahead. But his countenance is positive as he looks to a future he might not have had but for dedicated professionals of Middle Park, Grand County EMS and St. Anthony.