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Heart Attack and Back: Mark Peterson's story

Published On: Feb 04 2013 08:27:33 PM CST
Updated On: Feb 04 2013 08:59:45 PM CST
Mark Peterson
SPOKANE, Wash. -

Like he had done hundreds of times before, Mark Peterson headed to work in the early morning hours of October 24, 2012. Little did we know that day could have been his last.

"He likes to have things to do, so we were making pizzas and he was holding babies and all sorts of things that morning," KXLY photographer Eric Larsen said.

Larsen was with Peterson that morning at a Papa Murphy's franchise in Post Falls, Idaho, getting ready for the Good Morning Northwest broadcast. But that morning was unlike any other as Peterson started feeling ill.

"Towards the very end, I'm not feeling quite right, I'm dizzy, maybe hungry, you know how you get a little shaky when you haven't had something to eat," Peterson said.

"He was sweating and not feeling well," Larsen recalled.

The morning show ended, but Peterson still had a weather cut-in to do after Good Morning Northwest ended. It's at that point things went from bad to worse.

"It was just a sharp pain right there, then I drank the water and it went away," Peterson said.

"While he was having his moment, he had to do a weather cut-in. So, he did the weather cut-in a little bit doubled over," Larsen said.

"I did the cut-in at 7:25 and got through that. Right after that, I felt like I was gonna throw up," Peterson said.

"If Mark's not high energy and talking and enjoying himself, then he's not Mark. And, we thought, something's not right here," Larsen said.

"I said, 'I'm gonna lay on this floor until someone comes and gets me.' And that's exactly what I did. That's when everything really started happening. I started feeling it in my chest," Peterson said.

"He was conscious through all this and talking, so we were like 'It's probably a heart attack, but its just a mild one, he's doing okay,'" Larsen said.

"I told George, 'Call EMS … we're gonna need 'em," Peterson said.

"It was very long, especially because he was struggling to breathe, and clutching his chest. He was in some real pain. He was obviously distressed," Larsen said.

Mark could hear the sirens approaching in the distance, but it felt like forever for them to get to him. In reality it was just two and a half minutes. The paramedics worked with him on the floor, hooked him up to a monitor straight away to figure out what was happening.

"This is when I knew the guys who come to help you really want to help you, when you see your shirt, ripped and tattered and torn so they can get in there and save your life," Peterson said.

The paramedics confirmed what everyone feared: Mark was having a heart attack.

"Even before Mark got there, we knew he was coming," cardiologist Dr. Keith Kadel said.

"I don't remember having five people working on me in an ambulance, but I remember the ambulance ride. I remember being pulled out of the ambulance in a bay at the hospital. Don't remember coding," Mark said.

The term "coding" refers to a medical event happening in a hospital. "Code Blue" generally refers to a patient suffering a cardiac event, requiring resuscitation.

"I started wandering down to the ER, there was a whole lot of attention," Dr. Kadel said. "I guess Mark kinda likes attention, but he got a lot of attention because his heart stopped completely in the emergency room."

"The crew was right on top of things, they started his heart back up instantly and I guess that's about when i walked in," he added. "He woke up right away -- scared -- which is pretty appropriate, and I said 'You're having a heart attack, we're gonna fix it' and he said OK."

Doctors began working on him and found that one of his arteries was totally blocked. Kadel was able to put a wire down across the artery where it was blocked to get the blood flowing again.

"We were pretty fortunate, we got it open really really fast. So fast, that even though if things hadn't happened that fast, he would no longer be with us," he said.

"I said 'What is so fascinating in the chart?' And he said, 'You understand you had a widow-maker, right?' And I go 'What?' They said, 'It's huge; most people don't live through it," Peterson said.

"You came in as early as you possibly could. You were extremely lucky," Kadel said.

So why did this happen to Mark?

"Mark's a hard-driving guy and that's a risk. And, he's had some things going on recently that have been stressful, that's a bit of a risk. The most modifiable one? Smoking," Kadel said.

Peterson has been smoking for the last 30 years.

"People ask me why I haven't smoked, and I'm like 'Because it killed me. It killed me once, I'm not going to let it do it again," Peterson said.

"A heart attack is a darned good way to quit smoking, but I don't recommend it," Kadel said.

It's now been three months since he suffered his near-fatal heart attack and Peterson is a changed man.

"Now I'm rowing, I'm doing lunges, I'm lifting weights," he said.

"He's taken this as a wake-up call and an opportunity, while he's still a hard-driving guy, which is why everybody loves him, I think," Kadel said. "He's not smoking, he's exercising, he's paying attention to what he eats. He's doing everything he can to keep this from happening again. It's not a guarantee, but all you can do is the best you can do."

Mark: "That's gotta be the coolest thing in the world to walk away from something like this."

Dr. Kadel: "Not everybody gets two cracks at it, so you've gotta make the best of it, don't you?"

Mark: "Yeah."

While Mark was fighting for his life and as he's continued on the road to recovery ever since, his family has been supporting him every step of the way.

"Matthew was like, you're cool? Everything's fine, he's like OK ...  alright. Tillman, the minute I saw him, I was like 'Hey dude.' He said, 'Hey dude, you alright?' I go 'Yeah, gonna be home Friday.' That was it, he was good to go," Peterson said.

"Like a month ago, he [Tillman] came up to me and said, 'I'm so proud of you dad, for not smoking.' And, it just kills me. Every time I think about what a stupid habit that is and how it killed me once, I'm not gonna have it happen again."

"My 19-year old son was really affected by this. And, it freaked him out, and it scared him and he was thinking about what it would be like if I wasn't there and all of that. We had to have long talks about if I hadn't come back, what I would have expected of him. And that was hard. You really talking about something you've never talked about with anyone, now I'm telling my son, if something happens, and it's not, but you have to do that."

"Everything in this case went strictly as well as it possibly could and we came up with something that worked pretty darn well," Kadel said.

Now, with the morning of Oct. 24 in the rear view mirror, Peterson has returned to his usual, jovial self at the office.

"The first couple times we see each other, it's kinda like, 'Hey, still alive, right?'" Larsen laughed.

Beyond the laughing, jovial person that people see on Good Morning Northwest every morning, Peterson came back from his brush with death with something more: A new outlook on life.

"I'm blessed that I get to just get up and go … and it's a free pass," he said. "I appreciate things more, and, this year, I'm going to do better for myself, which I wouldn't have done or hadn't done previously to that. I'm going to make my life more enjoyable, which will, in turn, make my children's lives more enjoyable. That's my goal."

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