A former college football player, Stephen Slocum, 50, liked to push himself. It worked in business, allowing him to become the owner of a successful Nationwide Insurance office in Salisbury.
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And it worked in the gym: He was a regular at the Mid-Shore YMCA, keeping himself as fit as when he played football in his college days. Cardiac stress tests were no challenge for him.
But one day at the gym, something went wrong.
“I noticed I didn’t have the same ‘punch’ I normally do,” Slocum said. “I got dizzy and thought I better get myself checked out.”
Slocum went to PRMC’s Emergency Department, where tests all seemed normal — except for the EKG. Just 45 minutes later, he already had a stent in place to fix an obstructed right coronary artery.
“I couldn’t believe how quick it was,” he said.
And he felt better almost immediately — so good, in fact, that he was soon back at the Y for his workout routine. Two weeks after the first incident, Slocum was exercising in the weight room when he was felled by a major heart attack due to a blood clot.
An off-duty detective sergeant from the Wicomico Sheriff’s Office, Michael Dolch, happened to be at the Y that day and helped revive Slocum.
“I just had walked in to work out, and some people told me there was a man having a seizure,” Dolch said. “I went to see if I could help, and when I went to take his vital signs, he stopped breathing.”
Dolch had been trained for CPR, but never had used it — now, his practice paid off. He and another bystander, an off-duty officer from Eastern Correctional Institution, kept Slocum’s heart pumping and airways circulating.
“When I went into the room and saw who was working on him, I knew these were two people who had been highly trained and I felt really good about his chances,” said Nora Mears, a longtime aquatics instructor at the YMCA.
Mears added her experience to boost Slocum’s chances — not only is she a lifeguard, but she also teaches lifeguard classes at the Y that include CPR and AED usage.
By another stroke of luck, Slocum’s good friend, Dr. Jeffrey H. Etherton of Delmarva Heart had donated a defibrillator to the Mid-Shore YMCA 10 years ago, to use in situations such as this one. Mears helped shock Slocum’s heart back into rhythm — it took three shocks.
Etherton, a YMCA board member, said he and his wife, Michele, decided to donate the AED after a fellow board member and philanthropist Herbert Fincher was felled by sudden cardiac death at the gym.
“A wonderful guy had died, and it struck me that something could have been done about it,” Etherton said. “About a month later, my wife and I donated the defibrillator.” Since then, the YMCA’s defibrillator has been used twice — Mears had been helping the first time, too. Both times, the AED helped save lives.
The Ethertons’ donation came well ahead of a growing national trend to install AEDs in public areas, from airports to malls. The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute said 95 percent of people who have sudden cardiac arrest die from it if they are not rapidly treated with an AED.
It made the difference for Stephen Slocum.
On his 50th birthday, Nov. 27, 2011, Slocum was released from the hospital, just weeks after a heart attack that many could not have survived.
Today, he is back to work, and back to working out, too — although now it’s at Peninsula Regional’s cardiac rehab facility, where his heart is monitored while he exercises.
Even though Slocum’s heart attack happened at the gym, he is still a strong believer in exercise.
“I don’t think I would have been able to recover as quickly — maybe even wouldn’t have survived — if I wasn’t so fit,” he said.
It’s likely that family history played a role in his heart disease. Slocum said many people in his family, including his father, had cardiac problems. Exercise is a vital way to ensure that his heart recovers and stays healthy.
Slocum is grateful to all who helped him that day.
“I am a man of faith, and I believe that it was by God’s grace that all the proper people were lined up to keep me alive,” Slocum said.