VAIL, Colorado - You don't often appreciate how health care works until you need it, and for one local man, that became evident last month.
Dave Bentley, a retired pilot, did his final run of the day on Vail Mountain last month, and something just wasn't right. Bentley finished his run at the base of the Vista Bahn and realized that what he thought was indigestion was something more - it was a heart attack. His ski partner and longtime friend, Dr. George McNeill, hailed two nearby ski patrollers waiting in the lift line as Bentley was slumping over.
"Immediately the patrollers assessed the situation and poured a packet of granulated aspirin down my throat," Bentley said. "They didn't pause, and an ambulance was called immediately."
The patrollers prepped Bentley for the ambulance, and within minutes of finishing his run, he was on his way to the Vail Valley Medical Center Emergency Department. Once at the ER, Bentley was surrounded by nurses, doctors and others helping to save his life. Dr. John Slack, a Vail Valley Medical Center cardiologist, administered medications including a clot buster while locating the nearest cardio catheterization lab, or "cath lab."
The cath lab, a specialized examination room with diagnostic imaging equipment used to support the catheterization procedure, is shown to be so effective that a patient who arrives to one within three hours of first symptoms has a 92.1 percent chance of survival, according to an article in CathLab Digest. In this case, Slack found The Medical Center of Aurora in Denver was open, and the helicopter was ready to whisk Bentley away shortly after.
Bentley's clot-buster medication worked, and as his pain decreased, he was taken away by TriState CareFlight, a regional helicopter service that works with Vail Valley Medical Center. Once at the Aurora Hospital Cath Lab, Bentley was in surgery with Dr. Jerry Greenberg just three and a half hours after completing his last run of the day.
Greenberg, a veteran interventional cardiologist and top clinical leader at The Medical Center of Aurora, has a close connection to Vail and takes time away from Aurora to practice in Vail routinely as well as frequent the slopes.
The doctor indicated that Bentley had 95 percent blockage in his left anterior descending artery, also known as the "widow maker." Greenberg placed a stent in the artery during surgery and within three days of his nearly lethal heart attack at the base of Vail Mountain, Bentley was able go home to recover with his wife and 4-year-old son.
"Those people had every link in the chain coordinated. It was seamless," Bentley said. "I'm lucky this happened to me in Vail because if I were driving down I-70 or at my home in Cordillera, I wouldn't have made it".
Bentley had no prior history of heart disease and was fortunate that the Vail Mountain ski patroller knew to administer a life-saving dose of aspirin which was just provided to the Ski Patrol team the day before.
"For me it happened so fast that I didn't have time to consider the consequences," Bentley said. "You see the patrollers on the mountain and know about the emergency room staff, but to experience it first hand makes you grateful for their expertise and dedication. I'm alive today because the close relationships between the Vail Mountain Ski Patrol, Vail Valley Medical Center, Tristate CareFlight and the surrounding healthcare community."
Lindsay Warner is communication and publications manager for the Vail Valley Medical Center.