By Brad Spencer
Oak Parker Chris Grubert never misses an opportunity to say goodnight to his young son. Something traumatic would have to occur to keep the doting father from tucking in little Thomas. But on a warm summer evening a few months ago, Chris’s heart stopped.
It began on a typical Sunday evening. Feeling a bit stressed from the recent purchase of a home and the impending move, the fit and slim 37-year-old stay-at-home father told his wife, Carrie, he was going out for a jog. Carrie, who was cooking a usual healthy meal of salmon and broccoli, advised her husband to be home by 6:30 p.m.
But it would be weeks before Chris Grubert returned home.
Chris has no memory of the days leading up to the incident and the three or so weeks following it. What he’s been told, essentially, is that he died, maybe more than once.
Chris was found unconscious, not breathing and with no pulse near the steps of Blue Max Coffee Shop on Lathrop Avenue in River Forest. A helpful stranger began CPR. River Forest paramedics used a defibrillator to re-start his heart, which quit again in the emergency room at Rush Oak Park Hospital. A strong and determined collaboration between the ER department, the intensive care unit, the hospital’s cardiologists, therapists and nursing staff helped Chris Grubert get back on his feet and return home healthy.
Chris had suffered cardiac arrest. In the ER, doctors intubated him and restored his heartbeat. They then began the therapeutic hypothermia protocol to lower his body temperature.
“The use of therapeutic hypothermia turned out to be a great success for this patient who was in critical condition,” says Dr. Donald Tanis, a cardiologist and one of the doctors who treated Chris that day. “It helped preserve neurological function.”
Chris also underwent an emergency cardiac catheterization where Dr. Tanis determined he had a 95 percent blockage in one of his coronary arteries. Tanis and his team opened the artery up with a balloon and inserted a stint. They then placed an intra-aortic balloon pump in the artery from Chris’s upper leg to help keep the blood pressure up and improve flow to his coronary arteries.
“This was an example of our excellent team approach here at Rush Oak Park Hospital,” says Dr. Tanis. “Everyone had an important role: the ER team, the ICU team, the nursing staff, our lab team, and the techs. We were all very instrumental with helping this patient. Things did look pretty bleak there for a while, but the team and the group of specialists that included Dr. (Anthony) Marinelli and Dr. (Peter) Kurko, among others, were helpful in achieving a successful outcome for Mr. Grubert.”
For Carrie, who works in Chicago as a health insurance specialist for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, her husband’s heart attack was mind boggling.
“I was thinking, why us? Chris is too young for this. There was no reason this should happen to him. He ate well, he exercised, he was fit, and there is no history of heart disease in his family. Thankfully, the care he received from the minute it happened to his time in the hospital was exceptional.”
The couple was still able to close on the purchase of their new house four days after the incident, right around their third wedding anniversary. Even small details of the night of the incident stick out in Carrie’s mind.
“I remember how nice it was that the hospital nurses chipped in watching my son while I visited with Chris and the doctors,” she recalls. “It was a minor thing, but it meant so much.”
After undergoing speech, physical, and occupational therapy, Chris said he’s doing great. A month after the incident, he was released to operate a motor vehicle again.
“It’s surreal still to think about,” he says of the ordeal. “It’s strange for me because I don’t remember anything. It means a lot that these people helped save my life. I realize it was routine and part of their jobs for most of them, but they’re all good people. I’m grateful to be alive. If it wasn’t for all of them I wouldn’t be here.”