La Plata Medical Society
  Durango is doing everything possible to keep your heart going.

You should be aware that Mercy Medical Center now has open-heart surgery, including coronary (the arteries in the heart) bypass and heart valve replacement. The cardiologists (heart doctors) are inserting heart pacemakers and defibrillators. Hopefully, we will soon have an interventionalist who will be placing cardiac stents (tubes to keep the heart arteries open).

Another program is being developed in Durango to get your heart beating again if you have a sudden cardiac arrest. With a heart attack, the heart muscle's rhythm might be thrown into fibrillation and all the muscle fibers beat independently and the heart is ineffective and can't pump blood. The brain can exist for about five minutes without blood before the patient dies.

Therefore it is vital that the fibrillation be stopped and the heart placed into a normal rhythm again. This is accomplished by "shocking" the heart with an electrical current and allowing the heart to resume its normal rhythm. An external defibrillator delivers the "shock."

Defibrillators are present in the emergency room and throughout Mercy.

Automated External Defibrillators, called AEDs, are present in all ambulances, but these are still not enough. Remember, defibrillation must be done in the first five minutes to be effective.

Amy Knight, Barbara Lawson and Scott Sholes, all with the La Plata County Emergency Medical Services Council, would like to see a portable AED wherever there might be a crowd of people. The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, sporting events, restaurants, hotels, the airport and shops are examples.

The AED is a wonderful device. Two sticky patches the size of your hands are placed onto the patient's chest. The machine automatically takes an electrocardiogram to determine what is the rhythm of the heart. If cardiac fibrillation is not occurring, the AED will not discharge its shock. If the heart is fibrillating then the necessary shock is given. The AED will continue to "read" the heart. If the fibrillation is continuing then the next shock will be stronger until the fibrillation is converted.

Does this work? Yes! Amy, Barbara and Scott have a wonderful true story from last Christmas. A tourist (let's call him Sam) was at O'Farrell Hatmakers looking at different hats. He suddenly became pale and collapsed. Someone called 911 and the ambulance, with an AED, was there in three minutes. Sam was "shocked" and his fibrillation was reversed. He recovered in the ICU at Mercy. The story gets better. He was married to his fiancé in the ICU and after discharge from the hospital returned to O'Farrell's to buy the hat.

The EMS Council wants to purchase these AEDs and have them available to get your heart beating again if you have a sudden cardiac arrest. With a tax-deductable donation,you can help keep us all alive and maybe yourself!

Tax-deductible contributions to help buy more AEDs can be mailed to: Heart Safe La Plata, c/o La Plata County EMS Council, 1235 Camino del Rio, Durango, CO 81301.

Dr. John N. Withers is a practicing general surgeon in Durango. Reach him here .

???rŸs?? the hospital before he saw Youssef.

"We thought I'd be treated and go home," Crites said. "Then we heard someone right outside my door talking about 'this guy with the fractured vertebra.' I thought 'Oh (expletive).' I had never broken a bone, but the neck is a hard one to begin with."

When he left the hospital, Crites was fitted with a stiff neck brace that supported his head and prevented it from moving. If he wanted to talk to someone not in his direct line of sight, Crites had to turn his body. When he sheds the neck brace after eight weeks, Crites will continue to use a soft collar for an additional six weeks when he drives or sleeps.

During his first weeks at home, home-health care sent a nurse once a day to change Crites' bandage, inspect the wound and talk to him about pain level and medication. He estimated that the service saved him several hours each day getting in and out of bed as well as the driving he otherwise would have done.

Crites began physical therapy two days after his accident. Therapy includes walking a mile a day and, after eight weeks, have expanded to stretching exercises to build strength and gain mobility in the neck. Exercises include sitting in a swivel chair and turning his body while holding his neck rigid. He also does similar lunging exercises from a standing position as well as balancing and strength movements.

While Crites still finds his neck stiff, Youssef said he probably won't suffer any long-term effects.

"Most people don't feel that they lose rotation with a fracture of this nature," Youssef said. Most rotation is controlled by the C1 and C2 vertebrae, he said.

While Cries hasn't forgotten his accident, he is anything but discouraged. He is looking forward to outings on a new mountain bike, resuming golf and getting back on the ski slopes.

"You have to get back on the horse that bucked you off," Crites said.

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