BILLINGS — In April, Park City man Shawn McNeil nearly lost his life after he suffered a heart attack out of nowhere in his home. Luckily, quick responses from his wife and a local deputy saved the day, coupled with the care he received at a Billings hospital.
McNeil ended up at St. Vincent Healthcare, where he says he received exceptional care. He’s back home in Park City now but will forever be grateful for the team that helped save his life.
“Pretty much all of the care was top-notch. I would not recommend any place else," McNeil said on Friday. "I mean, all of the staff and everybody there was, it was awesome."
The day of McNeil's heart attack was a typical day for the 56-year-old father of four—until everything went dark.
“It was a normal day for me. I went to work and came home, been doing a rowing machine and I got on that. Then after I do my rowing, I usually go in and take a shower and that," McNeil said, "that was the last I remember."
The moments that followed were witnessed by McNeil's wife, Laurie.
“I had been gone, because I was at a meeting at the school," Laurie said on Friday. "So I came home and I was in the kitchen, getting ready for work the next day, and I just heard a crash. Kind of a loud noise. I thought, ‘Well, that’s strange.'"
Strange indeed, and a warning for what was about to happen.
"Then I heard it again, so then I went back to the bathroom and found him lying on the floor,” Laurie said. "I knew what was happening. I just came out, got my phone, called 911, and went back in there."
Laurie sprung into action, putting her training as an occupational therapist to work.
“I haven’t ever performed CPR. I’m an occupational therapist and I work in home care, so it’s not an emergency setting by any means. But 30 years of getting CPR certified year after year, it sticks," Laurie said. "I did a lot of things wrong but I did enough things right that we had a good outcome for sure."
Shortly after starting CPR, a Stillwater County Sheriff’s Office deputy, Daylon Richard, arrived on scene with a defibrillator in tow.
"After I called 911, about 10 minutes later, the deputy showed up with the AED, the defibrillator, and we shocked him twice. Then the ambulance showed up maybe 10 minutes after that, and then it was a third shock, and then that revived him," Laurie said. "So he never had to be intubated. He was conscious when they took him in the ambulance and then even in the ER. I remember the ER doctor saying, ‘This just doesn’t make sense.’ And I’m like, well, it doesn’t have to because here we are."
In April, Richard received a Life Saver Award from the Stillwater County Sheriff's Office for his heroic efforts to save Shawn.
Laurie starting CPR coupled with shocks from the AED saved Shawn.
“Knowing CPR and starting that, I mean, he didn’t have a lag in the starting of the care. And I think that led to some of the good results," Laurie said. "It was good care at St. Vs, but if we hadn’t been able to do what we did at home, it would have been a different ending."
Shawn continued his healing journey at St. Vincent Healthcare.
"I felt like I was in the place I needed to be. I wouldn’t have flown someplace else to be taken care of, they were excellent," Shawn said. "Everyone was so caring and just really good hands, is what I felt like."
Shawn's heart attack was caused mainly by genetics, and he believes it serves as an important reminder.
“It is genetic. They say 60% is genetic. My dad was exactly the same age, he ended up having a triple bypass. He didn’t have a heart attack, they caught it before. So yeah, it’s pretty crazy, but it was the exact age,” Shawn said. “We always thought it was just fast foods and that, but it’s sugars and sodium. They said those are a huge part of cholesterol, your body turns them into cholesterol. It can happen to anybody."
It's something doctors at St. Vincent see on the regular.
"I’d say once a month we have to address some very sick patients like this, of different degrees," said Dr. Simon Maltais, the medical director of cardiothoracic surgery at St. Vincent, on Wednesday. "And of course, a lot of people need to come together to help these people as quickly as possible."
Maltais performed surgery on Shawn and praised Laurie for her quick response—which is something the team at St. Vincent works to educate community members on.
“It’s unfortunately very common. And now, thankfully, there’s a lot of things that happen for these patients in the community in terms of learning, recognizing some of these things that, you know, (that helps) a lot of these patients make it here," Maltais said. "For Mr. McNeil, it was his wife. I don’t know if she’s watched Dr. Oz or whatever, but she did CPR enough that he was stable enough to bring him to the hospital."
Another St. Vincent doctor, Dr. Rich Lammers, said educating the community is a top priority for the hospital.
“One of the primary things that we recognize is the amount of education, outreach, and things like that that we do in the community," Lammers, the medical director of the emergency department, said on Wednesday. "This shows the benefit of that."
On Saturday, the annual SAINTS Benefit will take place, raising money for cardiac, stroke, and trauma care at the hospital.
“We’re excited to be celebrating our 45th annual SAINTS Ball. It’s an event that our community looks forward to every year. We’ll have a big dinner and dance. We have a wonderful band coming in from Denver, Colorado," said Heather Bergeson, the senior director of development for the St. Vincent Foundation, on Wednesday. "People can look forward to a great live auction, challenge auction. It’ll be a formal event and should be a wonderful celebration."
The event will be held at the MetraPark Montana Pavillion, located at 308 6th Ave. N., on Oct. 7.
"We’re going to be raising funds for emergency and critical care services, specifically in the areas of cardiac, stroke, and trauma,” Bergeson said. “It’s the focus this year because we’re responding to the community’s needs. Those life-saving needs in those areas. And we’re really excited because we’re celebrating 125 years. So we’re looking back and reflecting on the exceptional, compassionate care that we have been providing this community for 125 years, and looking forward to what’s to come in the next 125 years."
One hundred twenty-five years of lifesaving care right here in Billings.
"You can’t go anywhere in the country, or probably in the world, that you’re going to have as good of care," Shawn said. "I mean the surgeons are excellent, and the nurses, I mean they cared for me like I was special to them."
To learn more about the SAINTS Benefit, click here.