Wednesday, June 19, 2013
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Donovan Cassell smiles while recounting his cardiac arrest and subsequent hospitalization with his mother, Kristy, at his grandaprents' home in Independence June 12.
June 20, 2012
INDEPENDENCE -- Donovan Cassell was on a ventilator, comatose, the morning of May 27. His mother, Kristy, remembers the doctors at Sacred Heart Medical Center in Springfield telling her that the next 24 to 48 hours would be critical.
Kristy said she knew he would be fine. But that stubborn optimism faded when the nurse approached her the following day.
"`Do you have directives in place?'" Kristy recalls being asked. "`We need to know how long you want to keep life support going.'
"And it was like the floor fell out from beneath me," continued Kristy, an Independence resident. "I was crying and couldn't answer her."
Don't worry, this tale has a happy ending, even if Donovan is bored by it.
"I pretty much just want to move on," the 19-year-old said. "I'm tired of hearing the story."
He'll have to endure it a bit longer.
Donovan suffers from hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), a condition in which the tissue of the heart muscle thickens and makes it harder for the organ to pump blood.
Those afflicted are predisposed to the risk of the heart "short circuiting and going off its normal rhythm," said Dr. Matthew Trojan, a cardiologist from Sacred Heart who treated Donovan after his brush with death in Eugene late last month. "You collapse and if nothing is done immediately, you don't survive."
A 2008 story in the Itemizer-Observer about Donovan when he was still at Central High School detailed how medication and refraining from extreme physical activity helped him control the condition.
Donovan is enrolled at the University of Oregon, majoring in music technology. The morning of May 27, he rode his bike about a mile across campus to Central Lutheran Church, where he was scheduled to sing with a choir.
Donovan can't recall details from that day, but after reaching his destination, he went into sudden cardiac arrest, Kristy said.
Tina Meyer, a church volunteer who had arrived for a reception, found Donovan lifeless on the ground near a bike rack and called 9-1-1.
"Nobody would have been back there otherwise, this was just an alley, not a parking lot," Kristy said.
Meyer "pretty much saved my life," Donovan added. "I'm grateful."
Donovan's heart had to be resuscitated three times, twice by paramedics and once in the emergency room at Sacred Heart. Doctors induced a coma, hooked him up to a respirator and used a cooling protocol to bring his body temperature down to 88 degrees to slow the onset of brain and neurological damage.
It's believed that Donovan's heart stopped beating for 5 to 7 minutes from the time he was loaded into an ambulance, though family members and witnesses believe it was longer. Negative consequences typically result at the 3-minute mark, Trojan said.
Kristy was in Monmouth when a UO official called her and asked her to call one of Donovan's choir mates, who informed her that he was being moved to intensive care.
At the hospital, Kristy said doctors informed her that brain damage was likely and that they expected his organs to shut down. Before May 27, Donovan had never experienced a serious health threat because of HCM.
"The chances of him being back to normal ... they gave us no hope," Kristy said. "They said he would have brain damage, it was just a matter of how much."
Doctors brought Donovan out of his coma on May 29. He acknowledged people in the room and gave a thumbs up when asked by a nurse.
"The first thing the nurse had asked him after they pulled the ventilator off him was who was standing by his feet," Kristy said. "He said `my mom,' and I knew he would be OK.
More than amazing, actually. Donovan's back home in Independence and doesn't appear to have suffered a single side effect to his mental faculties.
"Everything went right for Donovan," Trojan said, noting quick action by the woman who found him, the paramedics and hospital staff. "And there was luck involved, if he had been at home or somewhere rural, he wouldn't have survived."
Perhaps the only impact has been soreness from where Trojan implanted a cardioverter defibrillator in Donovan. It will shock his heart back into a normal rhythm in an emergency.
Donovan has taken the incident in stride; growing up with a heart condition, you know it's always a possibility, he said.
"Right now, I feel completely normal, I have all the energy I did before," said Donovan, who's home for the summer before returning to UO in September.
"I knew my limits," he continued. "I don't know why I was going so fast on the bike that morning."