Earlier this year, Ethan Bradshaw felt “severe” chest pain and numbness in his arm after a two-hour Brazilian jiu-jitsu practice. At first, the state trooper thought he was tired and that resting would help.
But he didn’t feel better. So Bradshaw called some colleagues with medical experience who urged him to go to the hospital immediately. They saved his life.
“I was fighting (one) pretty hard. I was telling him, ‘No I just worked out too hard. I’m fine. I just need to rest,’” the 30-year-old police officer from Kernersville, North Carolina, told TODAY. “My co-workers were like, ‘Dude, we believe you’re having a heart attack.’”
Bradshaw experienced “massive heart attack,” but thanks to his family, co-workers and hospital staff, he has recovered and is looking forward to the arrival of his first child.
“I ended up going into full cardiac arrest,” he said. “Thankfully I didn’t fight five minutes longer. I wouldn’t be here (if I did).”
'Massive heart attack' at 30
After Bradshaw finally agreed to go to the hospital, he called his wife, Mickaela, and asked her to meet him there. Upon arrival, Bradshaw became seriously ill, vomiting and going into cardiac arrest.
“It was probably five minutes that ... he went into cardiac arrest,” Mickaela Bradshaw told TODAY.
His doctor, Dr. Samuel Turner said that listening to his co-workers made a huge impact on his outcome.
“He actually collapsed in the waiting room before he even got back to the bay in the emergency department,” the interventional cardiologist and director of the cardiac catheterization lab for Novant Health in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, told TODAY. "We had a pretty dramatic presentation.”
Doctors quickly pulled him back and started CPR. Mickaela Bradshaw, who was 23 weeks pregnant at the time, felt panicked.
“He’s healthier than I am,” she said. “I would have thought something would happen to me before him because he constant works out every day. He stays pretty healthy in his eating habits. He’s never had any prior health problems.”
Doctors continued CPR for 20 minutes and used a defibrillator to try to jolt his heart back into a normal rhythm. They wanted to stabilize him to take him to another hospital to undergo treatment in a catheterization lab. Doctors, led by Turner, implanted an Impella heart pump into him to help his heart beat properly while a ventilator helped him breathe.
“Right after they got done with the surgery, Dr. Turner said he was able to respond to his questions. At that point after doing 20 minutes or so of CPR the worry is his brain functioning,” Mickaela Bradshaw explained. “He did have good CPR because he was at the emergency department.”
Bradshaw had to be sedated to be placed on the ventilator. Doctors tried weaning him off it for two days, but he had aspirated vomit and had developed pneumonia, which worsened without the ventilator. Doctors put him back on to help him fight off the infection.
“It was hard from the CPR pain and his lungs from the pneumonia,” Mickaela Bradshaw said. “He had two separate events with the ventilator so he went back to being fully sedated.”
Mickaela Bradshaw stayed with her husband continuously, sleeping on a tiny couch that caused aches and pains.
“Being pregnant, that far along, and having to sleep on this rough couch situation, but I didn’t want to leave him,” she said. “It was survival for me. Each day I looked what the task was for that day, what we needed to get through and focused on that.”
As the antibiotics started working, his fever went down and he needed the ventilator less and less so they took him off it again.
“I would say probably by day five after the second one being put in he was starting to make a large improvement,” Mickaela Bradshaw explained. “Everything started to look good.”
Heart attack and heart disease
Most people would not think a young, healthy, active person would experience a massive heart attack. But Turner said that’s why Bradshaw’s story is so important.
“Heart disease does not discriminate by age. And while most patients do have risk factors for heart disease, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, smoking, Ethan did not,” he said. “We do see this in young patient in their 20s, 30s and 40s that have heart attacks really prematurely without any obvious risk factors.”
While it sounds scary, Turner said it’s important for young people not to ignore symptoms, which include:
- Pain or pressure in the center of their chest
- Tightness or squeezing that “is commonly referred to as an elephant sitting on your chest”
- Pain in neck, jaw
- Arm pain
- Shortness of breath
“A lot of 30 year old guys might say, ‘Oh I just worked out hard today.’ Ethan had this sense that something uncomfortable, something really bad was going on and he knew to listen to his body,” Turner said.
Turner said it’s important for people to see a doctor annually.
“I cannot overstate the importance of seeing a physician regularly at least once a year no matter how young you are,” Turner said. “That is probably one of the most important things you can do.”
Knowing cholesterol levels, blood pressure, weight and blood sugar levels remains essential for most people in understanding their risk for heart disease. But the good news is that people can make changes to improve their heart health.
“Those are things you can modify at a young age, early in life that will decrease your risk for having heart disease in the future,” he said.
Preparing to be a father
After being taken off the ventilator, Ethan Bradshaw did physical and occupational therapy to build up his strength.
“He tried to stand up but he just barely made it off the bed,” Mickaela Bradshaw said. “You lose so much muscle mass. That in itself was scary to watch — from going from being so independent to then now having issues of trying to get out of bed.”
Every day, he improved, though he has his little memory of his heart attack.
“I remember going to the gym and then I woke up 10 days later,” he said.
When the physical therapist told him he was going to stand he didn’t realize how tough it was.
“I lifted weights that morning of the heart attack and did martial arts for two hours and I’m on our SWAT team,” he said. “I used to do all this and not think about it and now the goal of the day is for me to be able to pick my foot up and step it side to side.”
While it was "humbling," the staff and Turner “kept encouraging” him.
“Knowing that I had Mickaela and then our son coming on the way — I had to get better for them first of all and of course the troopers that I work with,” he said.
In early June, Bradshaw returned to patrol while still attending cardiac rehab. The couple are looking forward to welcoming their son in July.
“I always thought heart attacks happened to old people who didn’t take care of themselves,” he said. "I want people to listen to their body.”