NORWAY — Last month Lew Jensen was dead.
He credits his co-workers at Norway Savings Bank, a local police officer and PACE ambulance personnel for being able to tell his story, sort of.
Truth is, he remembers little about the day his heart stopped.
“I had to come face to face with the fact I had died,” Jensen said.
The 54-year-old from Auburn drove to work March 14 but doesn’t remember doing so. He does remember a few things, like the Tweet he received saying the bank would be closing at 1 p.m. because of the blizzard.
Everything else he has pieced together from secondhand and thirdhand reports.
An analyst on the Business Intelligence Team, he was trying to get on a conference call with staff in Portland and a co-worker came into his cubicle to help.
“Apparently, I began shaking and slid off my chair onto the floor,” Jensen said.
“She immediately hollered for help and to call 911. Apparently, many did and 911 was inundated with calls,” he said. “The 911 operator had my co-workers check for a pulse and this and that.” He had none.
“Someone from IT and someone from Deposit Operations rushed in and one did (chest) compressions while the other breathed for me, while a third from IT coached,” he said.
All preferred to remain anonymous, Jensen said.
“Everyone else was doing something, even if it was comforting each other,” he said.
The first official on the scene, Jensen thought, was a Norway police officer. Then PACE arrived.
Jensen was rushed to Stephens Memorial Hospital in Norway and later transferred to Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston, where he was put into a medical coma while his temperature was brought down to stop neurological damage.
He said he “woke up in the hospital and other than being tired and having to recover, felt fine. They kept me pretty medicated and it was Thursday or Friday before I really became aware of what was going on.”
He’s been told by his doctors that he suffered cardiac arrest: abrupt temporary or permanent cessation of the heartbeat.
It was caused by a virus.
And that’s about all he knows, so far.
“I have a lot of questions,” Jensen said.
He’s hoping to get answers after a special cardiac MRI at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston and a follow-up with his cardiologist.
Reflecting on the incident in the past month, he said it wasn’t until he heard a co-worker say, “‘when you took your last breath,'” that it really hit home what had happened to him. He had died.
“I heard that and it really sank in, what had happened,” he recalled. “Boy, I put my family through the wringer.”
His wife, Denise, and 17-year-old daughter, Olivia, along with his niece, a cardiac nurse in Massachusetts, rushed to Stephens Memorial Hospital. So did Norway Savings Bank President Patricia Weigel, Jensen’s supervisor and other bank officers.
His son, Llewellyn, is a sophomore at Bentley University outside Boston.
“His old baseball coach drove down to get him in the middle of the snowstorm,” Jensen marveled, “and a neighbor shoveled our driveway that night — twice.”
“I heard from people I haven’t heard from in years and all of that reminds me it wasn’t a nonevent,” he said.
He said he knows little about the virus that caused his heart to stop, but he doesn’t think, based on how medical personnel dealt with him, that it was contagious.
“It would be easier (to understand) if it were diet- or exercise-related,” he said, “but I had been eating healthy.”
Now, he and his wife stick to a low-sodium diet even though it isn’t necessary, and he walks.
“I have lost 20 pounds since this happened,” he said, partly because of his hospitalization, some from his new eating habits and some from cardiac rehab three times a week at CMMC.
PACE paramedic Chris Burnham and advanced EMT Aaron Nugent recalled the day they walked into the scene at the bank.
“It came in (from dispatch) as ‘person fainted’ so we responded,” Burnham said. “When we arrived about two minutes later, someone met us and said, ‘Ya, they’re doing CPR in there,’ so we flew in there.”
“It was a very stressful call,” Nugent said.
“This call hinged on the two people who were doing CPR,” Burnham said. “We would love to take credit, but they made the difference.”
“When we got there, he had no pulse,” Nugent said. They gave Jensen meds and eventually shocked him once.
“He went through several cardiac rhythms, but by the time we arrived at the hospital he not only had a heartbeat but a blood pressure of 150/100,” Nugent said.
“His co-workers absolutely saved his life,” PACE Director Robert Hand said. “They were the critical link in the chain of survival.”
“He’s so lucky he went down at work,” Burnham said. “If it had been anywhere else … .”
“I am lucky I was where I was with employees trained and courageous enough to jump in,” Jensen said.
The two ambulance workers also praised Norway Police Officer Jim Ventresca who was first on the scene.
“We were short of people and he was just so helpful,” Burnham said.
Since his brush with death, Jensen wears a vest that wraps around his chest and has sensors that keep track of his heart’s rhythm. If his heart should stop, the paddles in the vest will automatically “zap” him as an alarm sounds on the battery pack he wears at his waist.
“Every night I change the battery and recharge it. I have a ‘station’ with an antennae that sends the day’s heart information to Zoll” Lifevest.
“This story is not about me, it’s really about (all those involved at the rescue scene),” he said. “They brought me back.”
“Early CPR saves lives,” Burnham said.
“I don’t have CPR training,” Jensen said, “but I bet I’ll get it! As will my family.”
Fortunately for Jensen, the bank invited the American Heart Association to its past two annual health fairs and hosted CPR training, according to Richelle Wallace of the bank’s human resources department.
“Going forward, we are planning/coordinating to bring an expert in to conduct CPR and (automated external defibrillator) training for all employees at all locations,” Wallace said. “NSB is researching and expecting to purchase AEDs for all locations.
“I had to come face to face with the fact I had died.” — Lew Jensen