Husband and Wife Support Each Other as He Recovers from Cardiac Arrest and She Fights Breast Cancer

Media Contact Joe Poelker
Release Date: 02/02/2015 By St. Anthony's Medical Center

Mary and Wayne Huff

It may sound like the Huff family is struggling; instead they prefer to see the success they are sharing as they fight for their lives.

Mary Huff was recently diagnosed with breast cancer and scheduled for surgery. Her husband, Wayne Huff, was committed to standing by Mary during a difficult time, no matter what it took. A few days before his wife’s surgery, Wayne began to feel like something wasn’t right. As he described, “I wanted to get her through the surgery and then I was going to go to the ER.” He remained silent, ignoring his own concerns to be there for Mary.

A trip to the hospital

Mary knew. On November 3, as Mary was being prepped for surgery at St. Anthony’s Medical Center, she called for nurses to check out her husband. Doctors discovered that Wayne wasn’t well at all – they believe he suffered a heart attack on October 31 and have been living for four days with a 99 percent blockage of his left anterior descending artery.

“We call that artery the ‘widow maker’ because a blockage there often causes death,” said Christopher Allen, M.D., a cardiologist with St. Anthony’s Heart Specialty Associates. “We were amazed Wayne was able to live with that severe blockage.”

The attack had severely damaged Wayne’s heart muscle, putting him at increased risk for a life-threatening sudden cardiac arrest. But Wayne knew he needed to be out of the hospital to be there for Mary. To make sure Wayne was protected, Dr. Allen prescribed him with a temporary wearable defibrillator, a device that patients wear under their clothes which monitors the heart around the clock.

A second heart attack hits at home

Wayne and Mary were able to return home, but just nine days later, Wayne suffered another cardiac event. He stepped into the bathroom, and that’s the last thing he remembers. He suffered a sudden cardiac arrest (SCA), abruptly losing consciousness and collapsing to the floor. His heart spiked into a dangerous rhythm called ventricular fibrillation (VF). When a person experiences VF, his or her heart suddenly starts beating so fast that it quivers or shakes instead of pumping blood to the body and brain. It is deadly if not treated in minutes; 95 percent of SCA victims die before they can reach some form of emergency help. Mary remembers hearing the thud of Wayne collapsing, but she couldn’t get into the bathroom because Wayne had collapsed against the door. He was trapped and unconscious.

But Wayne survived. His wearable defibrillator detected the life-threatening arrhythmia, and within one minute, delivered a treatment shock that restored his normal heart rhythm and saved his life. Wayne regained consciousness shortly after the treatment and Mary called 911. He was taken by ambulance to St. Anthony’s Medical Center where Dr. Allen ultimately placed an implantable defibrillator in Wayne for long-term protection from sudden death. Looking back, Wayne is quick to credit Dr. Allen for protecting him, “He saved my life.”

In high spirits

Through it all, the couple hasn’t lost its sense of humor about being in St. Anthony’s at the same time. “I felt sorry for the nurses, with my kids going back and forth,” Wayne jokes with a laugh. The Huffs have much to be thankful for: five grandchildren, three children, the life-saving treatments they’ve both received, and of course, each other.