Centre Hall man credits caregivers, family, friends, and faith in miraculous recovery

Marlene Heintzelman remembers standing at the side emergency entrance of Mount Nittany Medical Center on the morning of June 14, 2015, waiting for the ambulance transporting her husband to arrive.

She remembers the paramedics and EMTs from Centre LifeLink rushing her husband into a trauma room, and a crowd of doctors and nurses working intensely.

She remembers being escorted to a couch in a small room in the emergency department, and a counselor coming in to talk with her. She remembers hearing things like “cardiac arrest,” “without oxygen for 18 minutes,” “possible severe brain damage,” and “a rare chance he’ll survive.”

She remembers feeling helpless.

Right place, right time

Heintzelman 0125 Tu Vert 715x1000Earlier that morning, 62-year-old Mark Heintzelman, general manager for the Mark D. Heintzelman Funeral and Cremation Services, P.C., was responding to a home death in Pleasant Gap when he began to feel very hot. Going out the front door of the home, Mark took a seat to rest for a moment. When he stood up, he immediately passed out and fell down on the porch. 

State police, who were at the house acting on the coroner’s behalf, promptly began CPR on Mark. EMS providers, although they had just left the home a few minutes before, quickly turned around. They grabbed an automated chest compression machine and quickly began trying to revive Mark.

Cindy Yost, NREMT-P, a part-time paramedic at Mount Nittany Medical Center and a full-time paramedic at Centre LifeLink, remembers this day well, calling it an incredible team effort from everyone involved.

In the ambulance on the way to the Medical Center, Mark continued to lose and regain a pulse and breath several times. When he arrived at the emergency department, he had been unresponsive for 18 minutes. Marlene was told there was minimal hope he would survive, and, even if he did, he would likely have severe brain damage.

“Eventually, I asked if I could go back into the room where Mark was. It was overwhelming seeing all of those people and that equipment near him, but I was focused on Mark. I told the doctors to continue working on him and try to revive him,” said Marlene.

After several hours, Mark was taken out of the emergency department and put into intensive care. Doctors still did not think he would make it, though. His kidneys were not functioning. He was on a ventilator. He was put into a medically induced coma.

Three long days later, Marlene says a miracle happened: Mark woke up.

“I was just so very relieved when Mark woke up,” said Marlene. “We all thought there would be severe brain damage, but he recognized me and recognized the people around the bed, and that was such a big relief. We thought this might never happen.”

Mark, who does not remember the day of his cardiac arrest, or the first three days afterward, admits to feeling very weak and very fatigued when he awoke.

“I don’t remember anything,” said Mark. “It was a couple of days before things really became clear. I remember feeling really confused and really weak. I was not in any pain, but I was just very confused.”

Early on, successions of tests were performed on Mark. After a little more than a week, a pacemaker-defibrillator combination was implanted in Mark’s chest to try to help prevent another incident in the future.

“The doctors weren’t really sure why this happened, but I do have a preexisting heart condition. When I was 22, I had a light heart attack. I went a lot of years without any problems, but then it became worse, and I ended up having open heart surgery about 10 years ago,” said Mark.

Although this particular incident of cardiac arrest was unanticipated, Mark admits to having passed out a few times for a matter of seconds in the months leading up to this event.

A caring team

With a team of skilled and compassionate providers continuously by his side, Mark was able to go home after 12 days. Although he sustained significant damage to his heart, he is able to do many of the things he used to. For that, he is so thankful.

“I have a lot to be thankful for and am enormously blessed,” said Mark. “In the very early days after I came home, I honestly didn’t think there was ever a possibility of feeling good again, but it was amazing how quickly that started to change. I, too, am grateful for the guidance, care, and expertise of the doctors and caregivers that stood by me. What they accomplished in getting me out of the hospital in 12 days and back to work full time in just a few weeks is amazing.”

The team by Mark’s side included Mount Nittany Physician Group providers Charles Nydegger, MD, cardiology; Fahima Nasreen, MD, nephrology; and providers from pulmonary and family medicine.  

“I could never say how thankful I am for the staff at Mount Nittany Medical Center,” said Marlene. “I could not have any more faith in doctors from anywhere else. These providers gave every ounce of their energy to make sure Mark was okay. Every day, there were several doctors checking on him and wishing our family well. I felt totally at ease with Mark being there, and that meant so much to me because I was placing the life of my loved one in someone’s hands, and that’s a scary situation.”

Heintzelman 0121 1000x715Relying on family, friends, and faith

The Heintzelmans agree that it’s so important to have close family and friends who can support you during these trying times. And, if it suits you, faith can help, too.

Mark admits that this crisis has left him with one overwhelming question: After defying all of these odds as he was so privileged to do, what is his mission in life going forward?

“It seems like there has to be a purpose in all of this, and I want to make sure I don’t miss that purpose,” he said.

Marlene says that they’ll continue to rely on their faith as they go forward each day.

“Without that faith, I don’t know if I could’ve dealt with this as well. We have been married 42 years, and it has strengthened our relationship and made me realize how fortunate I am that Mark had a second chance. And, because of that, I have a second chance,” she said.