A community-wide commitment to care: the amazing story of Lisa Magnan

It was a typical late-March Friday evening in State College. The downtown shops were bustling, and restaurants were overflowing. Doug and Lisa Magnan, with their two younger daughters, Kristen and Brooke, had made the four-hour trek from central New Jersey to visit their oldest daughter, Nicole, a freshman at Penn State. Initially, they had planned to make the drive on Saturday, but at the last minute, they decided to come a day early to have more family time over the long weekend.

At approximately 6:00 pm, the Magnans settled in for dinner, along with Gillian Allen, a friend of Nicole’s from her dorm, and Gillian’s parents. Throughout dinner, Doug told stories from his days as a college undergrad. “We had paid the bill, and I was telling one more story,” says Doug. “Lisa made a sound, and her head slowly fell forward. At first, I thought she was being overly dramatic, reacting to my story. But when her head hit the table, I called her Survivor 0213name, and she didn’t respond. I pulled her head up, and she already looked very gray.” The group was seated near the front of the crowded restaurant, and Doug noticed someone talking on a cell phone. He immediately asked the person to call 911 while he lowered Lisa to the floor.

Cory Sefchick, PA-C, Mount Nittany Medical Center Emergency Department and Penn State Orthopedics, and his wife, Lynnette, an RN at the Medical Center, were having dinner in the restaurant with their children and some friends. “My Penn State Sports Medicine jacket was hanging over my chair when someone tapped me on the shoulder,” says Cory. “They asked if I was a doctor because someone in the restaurant needed help.” The Sefchicks, along with Brandy Diehl, PA-C, Geisinger Medical Center, one of the friends with whom they were dining, quickly found Lisa on the floor. There were two other retired nurses and Keith Zora, DO, a pain management specialist with University Orthopedics Center in State College, also on hand. They checked Lisa’s pulse and breathing, did a quick group assessment, and Lynnette instantly began CPR, with each of them taking turns trying to revive Lisa.

“Within a minute, people came out of nowhere, moved me out of the way and took over, starting CPR,” Doug says. “We were in the right place at the right time. They worked like a machine, taking turns pumping her chest. Other people came on the scene and tried to calm us and keep us informed about what they were doing.”

The group of medical providers continued working on Lisa for a few minutes until the police arrived with an automated external defibrillator (AED). An AED is a device that automatically analyzes heart rhythms and advises the operator to deliver a shock if the heart is in a fatal heart rhythm. The shock stuns the heart, stopping abnormal heart activity, and allows a normal heart rhythm to resume. Fortunately, all Centre County police vehicles now carry AEDs.

“They shocked her three times trying to get her heart working again,” says Doug. “It was like a scene right out of a movie. It was incredibly emotional.”

EMTs arrived on the scene and intubated Lisa, stabilizing her enough to transport her. Upon arrival at Mount Nittany Medical Center, a cardiac catheterization was performed, and no blockages were found. She was diagnosed with ventricular fibrillation (v-fib), the most serious cardiac rhythm disturbance. When v-fib occurs, the lower chambers of the heart quiver, and the heart can’t pump blood, causing sudden cardiac arrest. The skilled, board-certified cardiologists at Mount Nittany Health possess extensive experience in diagnosing and treating heart ailments, including v-fib. The Medical Center recently received reaccreditation for the cardiac catheterization lab through Accreditation for Cardiovascular Excellence (ACE). Accreditation was first received last year, and reaccreditation means that the Medical Center continues to achieve a gold standard in the quality of its care.

To treat Lisa’s v-fib, a recommendation was made to use a fairly new treatment: therapeutic hypothermia. The therapeutic hypothermia treatment would use cooling blankets to lower Lisa’s body temperature, thus slowing down brain activity with the hope that she would recover brain function. Doug approved the procedure, and Lisa was sedated, her body temperature lowered. She “slept” through the weekend. On Sunday afternoon, Lisa’s sedative was stopped, and physicians brought her out of her comatose state. At first, she had no idea where she was. “I had no memory of eating dinner, or even entering the restaurant,” Lisa says. “I recall feeling like I was dreaming, and I had the feeling that I had to wake up — a feeling of panic.”

Lisa Magnan 0191 1000x715As the hours went by, Lisa became more lucid and coherent. By Monday, her speech had improved, and she was able to comprehend more clearly. One week later, Lisa was discharged from the hospital, and after two weeks, she was back to work.

“Lynnette and I went to the hospital to check on Lisa and her family throughout the weekend,” says Sefchick. “When we were able to talk to her on Monday, I was so excited and happy to see her and her family. As a physician assistant, it’s very overwhelming and satisfying to see them later and know we kept the family intact. That reward is as good as it gets.”

“It’s amazing that these people, all strangers, didn’t hesitate to help us,” says Doug. “Just like us, they were out for a relaxing dinner, and they instantly switched into medical mode and saved Lisa’s life. And the staff at the hospital was incredible. They kept coming in and checking on us around the clock. They gave us such great detail about everything, all the options, and explained everything in terms we could understand.”

“You could tell that everyone at Mount Nittany Medical Center took my care very personally,” adds Lisa. “We’ve had other hospital experiences, and they were very matter of fact, but at Mount Nittany Medical Center, it was like they were our family and friends. It wasn’t just a job. They personally care about you and want you to get better. And they have this tremendous, medically advanced facility. The confidence I have in them is phenomenal. I’m a happy ending, and it couldn’t have turned out any better.”