On March 17 of this year, long time Orcas Island resident and Orcas FireFighterBruce Brackett had a major heart attack on the operating table at St. Joseph hospital in Bellingham.
Bruce Brackett is home now, hale and hearty, after major cardiac surgery involving a triple by-pass and three stents. In the weeks leading up to the heart attack, Bruce had a number of indicators that something was not right, including tightness in his chest and such shortness of breath that he was forced to curtail his normal physical activities. He did not experience any pain.
Finally, on March 17, he took himself into Station 21, and described his symptoms to Mik Preysz, who was the duty paramedic that day. Mik performed an EKG, compared it to an EKG performed on Bruce some weeks earlier as part of the Fire Department’s member wellness program, and promptly had Bruce airlifted to St. Joseph Hospital.
OIFD Paramedic Mik Preysz explained that Bruce’s EKG showed subtle changes, that, combined with his other signs and symptoms, signaled red flags to Mik, resulting in the quick trip to Bellingham. Bruce arrived at St. Joseph about seventy minutes after walking into the Fire Department.
At St. Joseph’s, the cardiac surgeon decided to “bump” a patient who was prepped and anaesthetized for surgery in order to begin surgery immediately on Bruce. Although Bruce did have a heart attack as the surgery began, because of the speed of the whole care process, he suffered no permanent heart muscle damage. He was able to leave the hospital three and a half days after surgery.
Bruce says that he is happy to wake up every morning. He says “from the bottom of my replumbed heart, I thank the whole team of professionals who helped me in my hour of need.” He enjoys walking into his shop in the morning and beginning to create something from raw materials. He built “Fiona”, his thirty-six foot wooden sailboat, from scratch. His lifestyle always has included working out at the gym, sailing, and bike riding.
Bruce thinks his previous fast food, high cholesterol, high stress habits contributed to his problem. He’s been reshaping his lifestyle to include a diet of fruit, vegetables, brown rice, low fat protein, and smaller portions. He has lost twenty pounds, or ten percent of his body weight. He is reducing unnecessary stress as well as getting a good night’s sleep. Best of all, he is focusing on the peace and serenity of his home on Orcas.
Bruce and his wife Julia have lived on Orcas Island since 1978. Now retired, Bruce worked for contractor Ron Wallace for nineteen years. He has been a FireFighter for the OIFD since 1980.
He has several messages about his experience: “When you have little symptoms, don’t just chalk it up to getting older. Don’t delay getting medical help. Have stress EKGs and other recommended tests regularly.”
Jessica Giasullo has been editor of the Orcas Island Fire District newsletter. She lives in Eastsound.