When Mike Horn put on his running shoes on Thanksgiving morning, he felt a sense of excitement and anticipation.
The 61-year-old Springettsbury Township resident was going to run in the York YMCA 5K Turkey Trot for the first time. It was going to be a family affair as his wife, son, daughter, son-in-law, daughter-in-law and two grandsons were going to participate in the race, too. Some family members planned to walk the course, while others decided to run or mix running and walking.
It was the first race for Horn, who typically trained on a treadmill. He didn't consider himself a serious runner. And, he wasn't going to try to set any records. His main goal was just to complete the 3.1-mile course through city streets.
It was an ideal day for a race as the temperature was in the 40s when the race started at 9 a.m. Being in a starting field of more than 4,000 runners of all ages was a new experience for Horn. But he was relaxed and patient as the pistol fired to start the race.
Within a few minutes, the congested field started to spread out, giving him more room. Shortly after that, he felt chest pains and shortness of breath. He had experienced these symptoms before at home on the treadmill. So, he stopped running and started to walk until the symptoms went away. Then, he started to run again. But the symptoms returned and he went back to walking. This happened a couple more times.
Horn was running as he neared the finish line when the symptoms returned, worse than before, and he got dizzy.
“I don't remember anything else until I was in the ambulance en route to WellSpan York Hospital,” recalled Horn, who collapsed at the finish line. “I remember asking the EMTs if I was going to live.”
Fortunately, Horn collapsed near the WellSpan Sports Medicine tent, which was staffed by two licensed athletic trainers, Kersty Weaver and Cassidy Mohar.
“At first, I thought the runner had tripped or fainted,” Weaver said. “But I tapped him on the shoulder and he was unresponsive. Everything after that was a whirlwind.”
Jordan Rentzel, an emergency department nurse at WellSpan York Hospital, who had just finished the race, ran over to help and began performing compressions on Horn's chest. At the same time, several other people hurried over, said they were trained in CPR and also offered to help, she said.
Meanwhile, Mohar grabbed the automatic external defibrillator (AED) from the tent while Weaver cleared the crowd to give them room to work. After a couple rounds of compressions, Horn wasn't responding. The AED advised Mohar to shock Horn. After one shock, Horn started to show signs of consciousness. Within two or three minutes, the ambulance arrived to transport him to the hospital.
“I can't emphasize enough how much of a team effort this was,” Weaver said. “I believe one or two minutes longer could have meant the difference between life and death. I believe the quick response, teamwork and the AED saved him.”
Julie Emrhein, supervisor of Clinical Sports Medicine and Athletic Training, said, “Kersty and Cassidy were in the right place at the right time. Our athletic trainers have the skills and knowledge to recognize and treat injuries in emergency situations. They are used to dealing with adverse situations and making good decisions.”
“There's a common misconception that athletic trainers only treat sprained ankles and minor injuries,” said Troy Rang, program director of Rehabilitation Medicine, which oversees the Sports Medicine program. “Our athletic trainers did what they are trained to do.”
Once Horn arrived at WellSpan York Hospital, he was stabilized and admitted. The following day he received a stent and was discharged on Sunday.
“I'm glad WellSpan staffed the Turkey Trot. If I had collapsed anywhere else on the course, I might not be here. I'm very fortunate. This past Thanksgiving was certainly a day to be thankful,” Horn said.
No one knew it at the time, but Horn suffered a type of heart attack called the Widow Maker, which is one of the deadliest kinds.
A Widow Maker happens when a big blockage occurs at the beginning of the left anterior descending artery (LAD), which is a major pipeline for blood. If blood gets 100 percent blocked at that critical location, it's almost always fatal without emergency care.
The heart attack came as a surprise to Horn, who didn't have a history of heart disease or high blood pressure. He also exercised regularly and watched what he ate.
Horn returned to work as a truck driver at the end of January. He said he felt well enough to return earlier, but the federal government mandates truck drivers be off at least two months after a heart attack. He has returned to running on the treadmill.
Weaver and Mohar say they are joyful and happy that Horn is doing well.
“Although we are trained to deal with situations like this, you never want to have to use those skills,” Mohar said. “It was, however, an immensely rewarding experience. It's why we choose this profession.”
Rang said the incident is an example of WellSpan's global mission to promote health and wellness in the community. “We are constantly asking, 'How can we keep the community healthy?”