Life changing events can come at any time, and be totally unexpected. When it comes in the form of a heart attack, procedure and timing is everything––and the situation of Joe Kirk has proven once again that the pinnacle of execution is performed right here by the Granite Falls Hospital and Ambulance.

Life changing events can come at any time, and be totally unexpected. When it comes in the form of a heart attack, procedure and timing is everything––and the situation of Joe Kirk has proven once again that the pinnacle of execution is performed right here by the Granite Falls Hospital and Ambulance.

For Granite Falls resident and trucker, Kirk, it happened on a Sunday a few months ago.

“It was Saturday and I was waiting on a load to bring back to Granite, and I had another sitting in Cottonwood waiting to go to North Dakota and Montana,” he recalled.

He decided to lie down because he wasn’t feeling well. For a month or so he figured he had been having chest pains, but he had dismissed them as simply the result of the strains that come from lifting and pulling of items to and from the truck.

“I finished with the Kansas load and called my girlfriend, Nina Christians, and said I’m on my way and I’ll be home at three or four in the morning,” commented Kirk.

She said, “You better stop, you’re tired. I said, I’ll be alright.”

Uncharacteristically, however, Kirk was only able to make it as far as Yankton, South Dakota.

“I laid down for a couple hours, got up and told Nina I’ll meet you at Tillie’s for breakfast at 6:30 or 7:00 a.m. When I got there she said: you don’t feel good, do you?

I said, I’m alright, just tired. And she said, well you look awfully tired.”

After breakfast, Kirk went on to a local establishment and loaded cabinets for delivery to Sacred Heart. Nina went along for the ride, and on the way back felt the need to reiterate: “You don’t look good.”

Kirk quipped, “Well, thanks for complimenting me.”

Shrugging off the humor, she continued, “You look tired and worn out. You hurt don’t you?”

“I said, my chest hurts a little bit. And I’ve got a little pain in my jaw,” Kirk told her.

To which she replied: “Well, you’re going to the hospital.”

Initially balking at the idea, Kirk said, “She kept on and on, so eventually I said, Fine. Take me to the hospital.”

Once there everything happened very quickly, and the last thing Kirk says he remembers is talking to the nurse for a few minutes before something suddenly came over him prompting him to audibly tell her that he was not feeling very good and that he thought was going to pass out.

“The next thing I knew I was in St. Cloud,” said Kirk. “My girlfriend was on one side of my bed and I saw my granddaughter and my son walk by.”

Trying to put two-and-two together, seeing his son, Eric––who was supposed to be on the road on his way back from Montana––didn’t add up.

“I said, what are you doing here,” recalled Kirk. “He said: You had a heart attack.”

Kirk responded, “No. I just didn’t feel good. That was this morning.

To which the younger Kirk replied,  “No. That was three days ago.”

How to save a life
Three days earlier Angie Midthun recalled hearing the RAT, or Rapid Assessment Team page, that directly followed the Kirk’s collapse in front of his nurse.

She said a team of personnel was immediately on scene to begin Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) with a Lucas Machine, access the airway with an intubation device, administer medication and utilize an Automatic Electron Defibrillator (AED) to bring about normal heart rhythms.

The Lucas Device, which provides cardiopulmonary compression with a consistency and force superior to that of a human, was noted in particular for its effectiveness.

After only having one in the hospital, just this past month the GF Ambulance received an additional devices for their primary ambulance thanks to a $11,000 grant from the Helmsley Foundation.  

“Once we put the Lucas Device on you, your eyes started moving and your arms started to move. That’s how effective this machine is,”said Respiratory Technician Dennis Baumann. “Even without the defibrillation, this machine alone was circulating enough blood to your brain and your extremities that they were able to move. The whole idea is to keep the blood flow so that everything gets oxygenated––as soon as you start losing oxygenation to your brain and organs they start deteriorating.”

Transported to St. Cloud Hospital, Kirk said that he was told he didn’t have to go through some of the procedures typically administered to heart attack patients because of the superior care he had received by Granite Falls Emergency personnel.

“My cardiologist said you guys were what saved my life.” he said. “I’m just thankful that you guys were there and have the proper equipment to take care of it. There were all kinds of people involved.”  

“You are on the good side of the statistic,” noted Baumann. “80 percent of people with heart attacks have bad outcome and you were in that 20 percent who had a good outcome.”

Often times such life and death stories––and the sort of care that leads to the former––aren’t told, and Granite Falls Ambulance Director Jana Berends-Sletten expressed her thanks to Kirk for sharing.  

“When you came in here, there was a team that responded to you, and that’s really how we operate here,” she said. “It’s so unique compared to any other emergency room in the in the state of Minnesota and beyond––because there’s just not that team unity like there is here. Between your pre-hospital care, which is your ambulance staff and your hospital coming together, everyone from Lab, X-ray to Respiratory Therapy were there taking care of you in your situation.”

Going forward, Kirk knows his life will be different. But, again, thanks to the care by the Granite Falls Ambulance and Hospital crews, it won’t be different in a way that significantly impacts his quality of life.

“I can’t do some of the things I used to do. I have to take life easier,” he said. I have eight grandkids I’m going to spend more time fishing with. And I’ve also had more salad and fish than I’ve ever had in my life.”