Teamwork Saves a Life

Ever since his heart stopped suddenly while playing hockey at the Optimist Ice Arena in Jackson, Sheldon Brafford says that he knows who his friends are and what is truly important in life. Fortunately for Sheldon, some of his closest friends are the buddies he plays hockey with every week. One of those buddies, Steve Geiersbach, was there to save Sheldon’s life when he went into sudden cardiac arrest two minutes before the buzzer in July of 2017.

Although it is not yet required by law, it is highly recommended that public places have an automatic external defibrillator (AED) on site. This portable device is used to deliver electric impulses through the chest to the heart, to shock it back to its natural rhythm. (It works like the paddles you often see in hospital TV dramas). The quicker this can be done following a heart attack, the less damage to heart muscle and better the survival rate. According to the American Red Cross, improved training and access to AEDs could save 50,000 lives each year.

Coincidentally, the AED used to save Sheldon’s life had recently been purchased for the Ice Arena by the hockey teams, who had collected and cashed in their returnable cans.  “I thought buying an AED would be a good safety precaution, given the level of energy spent in a hockey game,” Sheldon said. “But I never dreamed I would be the first—and so far only one—to need it.”

Steve worked the AED until an ambulance arrived to take Sheldon to the Emergency Department at Henry Ford Allegiance Health (HFAH). Sheldon was immediately taken for a heart catheterization, which is a test to determine any artery blockages that would limit blood flow to the heart. The cardiologists found four such blockages, and Sheldon was sent to the Heart & Vascular Center at HFAH, where he had quadruple bypass surgery a week later, performed by Mahender Macha, MD. Before the Center opened in 2008, Sheldon had helped his uncle, a local contractor, lay the facility’s computer cabling system.

“I couldn’t have been treated any better than I was by the Henry Ford Allegiance Cardiac Surgery team,” Sheldon recalled.  “I had a heart attack and several stents placed 10 years before, and Dr. Macha was very honest about my condition. He checked in on me every day and kept me really well-informed. I was able to go home within five days, and my recovery went smoothly after that.”

Sheldon also has high praise for the Cardiac Rehabilitation Program at the hospital, which provides monitored exercise and nutrition education. “The program is life-changing. I learned so much about the effects of food and salt on my heart. I am convinced that if I had the benefit of the program 10 years ago, I would not have needed open-heart surgery now.”

As soon as he got the okay from Dr. Macha, Sheldon was back on the ice and playing hard.