Maryland man survives ‘widow maker’ heart attack thanks to Vail man’s quick CPR
VAIL — It had to be a miracle.
There isn’t really a better explanation for how Peter Roskovich, of Salisbury, Maryland, survived a heart attack that caused him to lose consciousness and stop breathing on Vail Mountain, where he was snowboarding last week.
The athletic, adventurous 50-year-old was in Vail with his nephew and a college friend, Mark Tamberino. He was so thrilled with the surroundings that he texted Linda, his wife of 25 years.
“Vail is killer. Six to 12 inches of fresh powder. Cliff drops,” he wrote around 9:30 a.m. on Thursday. He had been snowboarding for an hour.
“Have fun,” she texted back.
“Within a few minutes he told my nephew he felt like somebody had punched him in the chest. He said he felt like he was going to throw up. They told him to kneel down. He passed out. Really, he died. He stopped breathing,” his wife told the Salisbury (Maryland) Independent from the hospital in Denver, where he is a patient.
Her nephew called and told her Roskovich had suffered a heart attack on the mountain and medical personnel were taking care of him. It took about an hour to get him off the mountain from the time it happened, because they were on the mountain an hour or so, because they were deep in Vail’s Back Bowls.
“I didn’t realize how bad it was until I got here and saw him. I didn’t know or understand how bad it was. He was on life support. He had been loving it there on the mountain. It was snowing. There was beautiful powder. He’s a snowboarder. He goes snowboarding or skiing about 25 or 30 days every year,” Linda Roskovich said.
Before Roskovich was transfered to Denver, at the Vail Valley Medical Center cardiac catheterization lab, doctors rushed to put in two stents, then a balloon pump.
“It is very rare that a small regional hospital would be able to do that,” Roskovich’s wife said.
“Then it was snowing so bad, they had originally tried to take him by helicopter to the hospital in Denver. They had to get ground transport that could support that balloon pump. They had to get the right team. It took about two hours to get him to Presbyterian/St. Luke’s Medical Center in Denver, where we are now,” she said.
The doctor is in
It just so happened that when Roskovich collapsed, cardiologist Dr. Jerry Greenberg was skiing nearby, and he was able to stabilize Roskovich.
Greenberg hailed a shuttle bus to rush Roskovich to the hospital and, once there, started the procedure.
Roskovich had what doctors call a “widow maker,” 100 percent blockage in the main coronary artery.
“They are telling us maybe 2 percent of people who have had that survived. Maybe 1 percent function afterward,” Linda Roskovich said.
Tamberino is trained in CPR and helped save Roskovich’s life. He also provided valuable information to emergency personnel when they arrived.
“They took off Peter’s helmet and put his head in the snow. That saves the brain function,” Roskovich’s wife said.
All that Roskovich remembers is going up on a lift that day, then regaining consciousness Monday. When he awakened, he immediately recognized his wife, asked what happened and when he could go home and told her he loves her.
“He died twice, once on that mountain and in the cath lab. They had to shock him eight more times. There is no brain damage. He’s typical Peter.”
Frozen to life
Roskovich was in intensive care Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. His body temperature was lowered to 89 degrees, and he was placed in a medically-induced coma to let his brain rest and recuperate. He was also on a ventilator and balloon pump to make his heart beat.
For a while, doctors weren’t optimistic that Roskovich would live and told his wife to fly their three daughters — Alexis, a senior in college; Alivia, at the Naval Academy in Annapolis; and Abigail, a sophomore at Parkside High School — to Vail to be with their father.
Roskovich’s father died of a massive heart attack at age 44, his wife said.
“We are humbled and overwhelmed. We are blessed. As a family, we’re lucky,” his wife said. “It was an act of God that he survived. All the pieces were in the right places.”