Joe Nichols had always considered himself healthy. Today, after having survived cardiac arrest, several heart blockages, and congestive heart failure, he also considers himself lucky.
So much so, that he and his wife, Carol are giving back to the cardiac program that saved his life nearly three years ago.
In 2020, Joe was a self-described “young” 70-year-old. A retired human resource executive, he was active in hobbies, exercised regularly, and took only one prescription medication a day.
That all changed one July evening when Joe thought he was coming down with a stomach bug or another illness. He began to sweat, but then experienced nausea, began to vomit, and had pain between his shoulder blades.
“‘Could it have been the meal I had eaten for dinner?” he asked himself. “Was it my gallbladder? Maybe it was COVID-19.”
“It couldn’t have been a heart attack,” he said. “My symptoms weren’t the typical ones I heard about.”
Joe had no numbness or pain down his left arm, no chest pain, and no shortness of breath.
Although most of his symptoms passed within a few hours, Joe still wasn’t feeling right. Three days later, he visited his primary care doctor who ran an EKG. Within minutes, his doctor called for an ambulance to take Joe to WellSpan Good Samaritan Hospital.
Not only had Joe had a heart attack but one of his arteries was completely blocked – for months, or for years. In addition, he needed three stents in a major artery.
Joe’s journey to heart health continues
A month after receiving the stents, Joe was ready to begin his first day of cardiac rehabilitation.
“Within two minutes on the treadmill, the lights dimmed, and I was ‘dead’ on the floor, having suffered cardiac arrest,” he explained.
Thanks to the quick response from the rehab team, several paddle jolts and CPR, Joe survived. For the next four days, he was placed in an induced coma and was intubated.
Three days later, under the care of WellSpan’s expert cardiology team, a defibrillator was placed in his chest.
Then, in October, Joe suffered congestive heart failure. At first, Joe and Carol were in shock, but then understood the severity of his health issues.
That December, Joe felt strong enough to begin and complete cardiac rehab. Fast forward to 2023, Joe has added more exercise to his routine and is now in better shape than he was years ago.
Joe and Carol give back
“The cardiac team at WellSpan was just phenomenal,” Carol said and added that his doctors always listened to her husband’s concerns before making any decisions about treatment.
Had it not been for their quick responses, Joe would not be here today, she said.
To show their gratitude, Joe and Carol sent a thank-you letter and donated $5,000 to the Heart & Vascular Gratitude Program Fund at WellSpan Good Samaritan Hospital.
The Heart and Vascular Gratitude Fund is used for cardiology-related needs, like programs, various expenses, equipment, and monitors that improve patient assessment and treatment, explained Brad Bame, regional executive director, Philanthropy.
Since their initial donation, Joe and Carol donated another $1,500 last year and will continue their donations to the WellSpan Foundation.
“This past year, the Foundation purchased two pieces of equipment totaling more than $45,000,” Bame said. “Without generous gratitude donors like Joe and Carol, these purchases would not be possible.”
Advice from a heart attack survivor
“I was lucky to have the team at WellSpan Good Samaritan Hospital,” Joe said. “I know now that symptoms of a heart attack can come in any shape or form.”
You can be active, play sports, go to the gym five days a week, and have annual physicals, but you can still have a heart problem, he explained.
“Listen to your body, your aches and pains, especially after the age of 65,” Carol said.
How your donations can help
WellSpan's community-based foundations work to improve the health of our local communities by supporting the non-profit and charitable endeavors of WellSpan.
If you are interested in making a gift to one of WellSpan’s charitable programs which help your local community, click here.