If you were having a heart attack, would you know it? More importantly, would you know what to do to try to save your life?
Dominique Waithe-Cunningham is 37 years old, and he clearly remembers his thoughts as his heart attack began. “I didn't know what was wrong, but I didn't believe I was having a heart attack – I'm too young.”
Dominique is a technical sergeant in the United States Air Force, stationed at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. He had just completed his annual physical fitness test that included a timed run when he says he began to feel funny. “I felt a little tightness in my chest, but I just attributed it to the altitude.”
As he began heading home, Dominique says the tightness in his chest was getting worse, and more symptoms were setting in. “I get home and I realize it's not only not going away, it’s getting worse. It’s getting harder to breathe, and I started to get real hot at the same time. I got to my bedroom and I started sweating even more.”
Soon, he found himself on his bedroom floor, and he began texting his wife, Alicia, who was at work. “I reached out to my wife and told her, ‘I think I need to go to the hospital, I can't breathe.”
For Alicia, getting texts from Dominique isn’t unusual. “We text every day throughout the day, about our day, so that was normal. It’s pretty consistent and he replies quickly all the time.”
Dominique says, “After a few minutes I had to stop texting her because I'm on the floor and I can't breathe at that point.”
When the texts suddenly stopped, Alicia knew something wasn’t right. “After he said that he needed to go to the hospital and then didn't reply, I don't think I even waited a minute before I called our son Christian and told him to go upstairs, your daddy needs to go to the hospital. Something just didn't seem right.”
Sixteen-year-old Christian Waithe-Cunningham was home playing video games with his older cousin and little brother. Christian says, “I get a call from my mom saying to go check on my dad because something is wrong.” When Christian got to his parents’ bedroom he saw his father lying on the floor. “He's not talking a lot, he is sweating and like – struggling. He said he needs to go to the hospital.”
Christian and his cousin quickly drove Dominique to UCHealth Memorial Hospital North as quickly as they could.
On the way, Dominique’s condition continued to deteriorate. “I'm in the back seat lying down, holding my chest and trying my hardest to just keep things together. We get to the hospital and I walk in – because I'm still a little bit stubborn - I get to the desk and they're like, ‘What's wrong with you?’ and at that point I realized I couldn't talk.”
Dominique says he managed to whisper, "I can't breathe," but that was all he could get out. “I remember getting sat down in a wheelchair and then I'm not sure – it goes fuzzy after that.”
That’s when an interventional cardiologist, Dr. Christopher Manhart, got involved in Dominique's care. Dr. Manhart says, “He was extremely ill when I initially saw him. He was very diaphoretic – sweaty - he was short of breath at that time, his heart rate was elevated and then shortly after that his heart went into a deadly rhythm, called ventricular tachycardia. If he were to stay in that rhythm it would be deadly ”
In our next story, we'll break down what was happening to Dominique and how the team at Memorial North worked to save his life.
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