A heart for Gary
Kathy Herbranson watched Gary, her husband of 41 years, be loaded into the back of an ambulance. She didn’t know if she would ever see him alive again. If she would ever hold his hand or watch him teach their grandchildren how to fish.
A whole life flashed before her eyes, one without her beloved.
“I honestly didn’t think he was going to make it,” Kathy said. “It was one of those situations you never want to experience.”
An ordinary morning
The morning started like every other. Kathy and Gary were at their cabin on Big Sandy Lake near McGregor, Minn. What started as a restful retreat from their lives in the Twin Cities had turned into their retirement home.
The couple was planning to get breakfast at a local café when Gary suddenly felt sick. He lay down on the bed, and the next thing he remembers is someone pushing on his chest and cutting off his shirt.
Gary had suffered a heart attack and went into cardiac arrest. Kathy rushed to perform CPR while calling 911. Luckily for Gary, a first responder was already nearby and arrived within five minutes.
This wasn’t the first time Kathy and Gary had rushed to save a loved one’s life. Their son had suffered a heart attack several years earlier and stopped breathing. He didn’t make it and passed away at just 30 years old.
The memory of watching her son die was fresh in Kathy’s mind as she watched first respondents fight to save Gary’s life. This time, she had something on her side that wasn’t available with her son – a LUCAS chest compression system.
When every minute counts
As Gary’s caregivers loaded him into the ambulance, they changed from manual CPR to chest compressions performed by the LUCAS. The equipment, lauded as the best CPR technology available, kept Gary’s heart beating during the 20 -minute ambulance ride.
As the LUCAS delivered consistent high-quality chest compressions, Gary’s caregivers worked to find underlying causes, provide other lifesaving interventions and coordinate with the care team at Riverwood Healthcare Center.
As Gary fought for his life, his care team at Riverwood, a Level 1 Heart Attack Program Hospital, coordinated emergency transport to Abbott-Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis.
No matter what comes next
Kathy did get to see her love again, and the two continue to live the retirement life where every day feels like a vacation. Despite ongoing health concerns for Gary, they are confident they have access to the local health care they need no matter what comes next.
“I personally believe we have a diamond in Riverwood serving our small rural communities,” Gary said. “We are so fortunate to have access to the excellent medical staff and quality of care they deliver here. If not for small hospitals like Riverwood providing outstanding trauma care, a lot of people wouldn’t make it.”
Gary and Kathy aren’t strangers to health scares. Just a few months after they were married, Gary was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and given a 10% chance of survival. He beat the odds, but the experience continues to shape the couple’s philosophy to never take anything for granted.
Caring for hearts of others
Today, they passionately advocate for local healthcare and are partnering with the Riverwood Healthcare Center Foundation to fundraise $16,000. Every dollar raised will help purchase an additional LUCAS device for the hospital.
The fundraising campaign, Save the Heartbeat, will run through the month of February in collaboration with American Heart Month. To learn more or donate, visit riverwoodhealthcare.org/givenow
“This machine could save your life or somebody you love,” Gary said. “Look at anyone in our community. Your neighbor. A complete stranger. It could be somebody’s parent, somebody’s child. You never know who could need it next. It’s a lifesaver.”
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