Patient Stories

Dougherty Leo

79-Year-Old Aviation Enthusiast is Resuscitated and Receives Life-Saving Heart Care

Springfield resident Leo Dougherty puts his heart into his passion for aviation. When that heart faltered, the staff at Memorial Medical Center helped him get back on his feet.

Everybody from housekeeping to the doctors was so helpful.

Springfield resident Leo Dougherty puts his heart into his passion for aviation. When that heart faltered, the staff at Memorial Medical Center helped him get back on his feet.

Leo, a 79-year-old retired electric contractor, earned certification and started flying in the early 1970s. During the following decades, he and his wife Norma, a certified private pilot, enjoyed traveling by air all over the country. His interest isn’t restricted simply to flying planes—over the years, he’s built three lightweight aircraft.

Although medical issues keep Leo grounded these days, he’s remained active with a local group of homebuilt plane enthusiasts. He was enjoying a Saturday lunch with that group earlier this summer when he suddenly went into cardiac arrest.

“The waitress had just served my food, and my friends tell me that I fell face-down on the table,” he said.

He hadn’t been experiencing any symptoms and had woken up that morning feeling energetic and healthy, his wife said.

“Until I fell with my head on the table, it was just a usual Saturday,” Leo joked.

When first-responders arrived at the scene, they performed CPR and restarted Leo’s heart using an automated external defibrillator. Norma—just a phone call away—arrived before he was rushed by ambulance to Memorial Medical Center.

Leo remained in the intensive care unit, breathing with the aid of a respirator, for three days. During that time, he underwent a cardiac catheterization procedure and had a new pacemaker equipped with a defibrillator implanted.

It wasn’t the first time he’d been treated for heart problems. Neither was it his first pacemaker. About 13 years earlier, following a heart attack, he had double bypass surgery. He’d also undergone cardiac ablation, had stents placed to widen his arteries and had a pacemaker implanted.

He was also very familiar with the Memorial Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation program. “I’ve put in a lot of hours there,” he said—more than 1,300, by his estimation.

Cardiac Rehab helps patients who are recovering from heart attack, heart failure or other heart issues improve their quality of life through exercise and education.

“A lot of times, a cardiac event is a wake-up call,” said Paula Harwood, BSN, RN-BC, CCRP, manager of Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation and Heart Failure Services at MMC, noting that it can often provide patients with the motivation to make lifestyle changes to improve their health.

Rehabilitation occurs in three phases. Phase I takes place in the hospital after a cardiovascular event like a heart attack or heart surgery and includes education and an analysis of the patient’s fitness for exercise. “We want to make sure they understand their heart disease and are safe to go home,” Harwood said.

Phase II is a supervised exercise and educational program that takes place at Koke Mill Medical Center. It’s overseen by a multidisciplinary team of registered nurses, exercise specialists, dietitians and others who help gradually increase a patient’s activity level while providing education about lifestyle changes that can help avoid future problems.

Phase III allows patients to exercise independently at the Gus and Flora Kerasotes YMCA while still benefiting from the guidance and supervision of a registered nurse. While not every patient goes through each phase of rehab, Harwood said that many of those who participate in Phase III have made a long-term commitment to an active lifestyle—a commitment that may help them stave off future heart problems. Data from the American Heart Association shows that cardiac rehabilitation reduces mortality rate for heart patients boosts quality of life.

Not all those benefits are physical. During Phase II and Phase III, “We’ve found that [patients] become like a family,” Harwood said, noting that social support can be a strong motivating factor. “They look out for each other.”

Leo and Norma Dougherty have experienced that support firsthand. “The exercise is good for your body, but the people you meet are good for your mind,” Norma added.

Leo said he’d recommend Memorial to anyone facing heart issues, adding that the entire staff ensured that his recovery went smoothly.

“Everybody from housekeeping to the doctors was so helpful,” he said.