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Your Healthy Family: How bullrider survived heart attack, that could have easily killed him

Posted at 3:46 PM, Nov 19, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-22 18:21:41-05

COLORADO SPRINGS — When Bret Vaughn went into cardiac arrest after his second bull ride at the El Paso County Fair in July of 2021, his chances of surviving didn't look very good.

Trisha Vaughn, Bret’s wife recalls, “When I saw him go down I just kept saying, ‘breathe, breathe, breathe.’”

Truly, everything that needed to go right for Bret that day did. Captain Ginger Flynn, (Volunteer Paramedic) with Calhan Fire was one of many EMS personnel at the fairgrounds. Ginger says, “We were well-staffed, which is unusual out here to have so many people in cardiac arrest.”

Kelly Fowler, (Volunteer EMS) with Calhan Fire says the call was a first for her. “To actually have someone actually go into cardiac arrest in front of you, that doesn’t happen very often.”

Ginger says, “The AED (Automated External Defibrillator), or the electricity, was right there, which was really key for his survival. We ended up shocking him six times I believe on scene.”

Finally after what seemed like an eternity, the efforts to shock Bret’s heart back to life paid off. Kelly says, “It was a really awesome thing to see that we got our ROSC (return of spontaneous circulation) back. His heart was beating on its own and he was trying to breathe on his own, and that doesn’t always happen.”

Ginger says, ”He did have a good strong heartbeat when we got ROSC back, so we were all hopeful that we would have a good outcome.”

Kelly says, “We sent him off in the helicopter with the best possible crew getting the best possible care that he needed as soon as possible.”

After the short flight from Calhan to Colorado Springs, when Bret arrived at UCHealth Memorial Hospital Central, cardiologist Dr. Christopher Manhart led the team that took over his care. Dr. Manhart says, “Bret came in as an acute heart attack. The original story was that he had significant amounts of CPR on scene at the rodeo.”

There was still a lot of work to be done, and even if Bret survived the heart attack, there were still questions about the quality of his outcome. Trisha says, “The doctor prepared me and said, ‘He was gone for 20 minutes and there is probably going to be brain damage, or there could be a lot of other issues.’ I said, ‘Whatever we have to do let’s do it.’”

Dr. Manhart says, “Based on his EKG our concern was the artery down the front wall of his heart was 100% blocked, so we emergently took him to the cardiac cath lab. We were then able to identify that the front wall of the artery was 100% occluded, that’s the LAD or the left anterior descending artery.”

Trisha says, “They call it the widow maker and only 5% of the people survive that type of heart attack.”

Dr. Manhart says, “We were able to open it up with a series of balloons and stents to regain the flow of blood to that portion of the heart.”

Trisha says, “When he woke up (from the procedure) he knew who he was and what was going on. At first he lost about a week's worth of memory. Once he came home it went to about a day and a half, and now he’s got all the rest of those memories back. He’s pretty much back to normal at 100%, he’s back at work full time, and his job is extremely grateful to have him - We’re blessed.”

Bret still doesn’t remember anything about that day, and says, “Next thing I remember was waking up in the hospital. Once I started riding bulls professionally I figured that where I would end was in the rodeo arena. One day it happened and I was lucky enough that I had a professional team right there to work on me right away - and give me a second chance.”

Next week we’ll share the story of Bret getting to reunite with the people who worked together to save his life.

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