WALTERBORO, S.C. / JUNE 29, 2015 - Paul Pye didn't expect to face a heart attack.
Once a star pitcher for Colleton County High School who could claim a no-hitter in the 1960s, the 64-year-old insurance salesman stayed active volunteering as an assistant baseball coach at the high school, walking regularly and keeping up with his grandchildren. "I had no clue that this was even going to happen to me."
He's thankful for the lifesaving attention he received at Colleton Medical Center (CMC) in his hometown and at Trident Medical Center (TMC), where his artery was opened back up. The rapid medical response allowed him to return to his everyday life and also attend his induction into Colleton County High's new Baseball Hall of Fame this spring.
The attack came on a Sunday morning in February at St. Jude's Episcopal Church in Walterboro. Pye felt pain in his left jaw during the 8 a.m. service that he was helping to lead, but didn't know that could be a warning sign. Just two days earlier, he had been popping up fly balls for high school players to field. Yet, as he left the church service, he broke out into a sweat.
Friends urged his wife, Fran, to take him to the CMC Emergency Department, where he was admitted at 9:05 a.m. The staff realized the danger he was in and took him back immediately for treatment.
Emergency nurse Beth Kubik Benton recognized Pye as she prepared him in the back for an EKG. "I was like, 'Oh my goodness, this is my neighbor,'" recalls Benton, 30, who lives down the street from Pye and is also a lifelong resident of Walterboro. "You could tell that he was not comfortable. He was in pain."
The EKG confirmed that Pye was having a heart attack, which the emergency team explained to him as they prepared him for a helicopter flight to TMC in North Charleston. "They talked to me the whole time," he says.
The flight team landed at 10:20 a.m. on the helicopter landing pad in front of TMC. Cardiologist Dr. Chris Kennedy and the team at TMC's cardiac catheterization lab were ready for Pye and by 10:43 a.m. had opened his artery up with a stent. Pye was conscious through the whole event and felt confident about his care from the moment he arrived at CMC. "They knew what they were doing, and they didn't waste any time."
Dr. Kennedy saw Pye afterward and explained the reasons for the attack. A large branch off Pye's circumflex artery had been 99.9 percent blocked. "We got the blood flowing back," Pye recalls the doctor telling him. "You have no damage whatsoever to your heart muscle. You are very, very lucky that you got here so quick, and they got you stabilized so fast."
Despite his lifelong efforts to exercise, Pye learned he was at risk for the blockage based on his family history. However, additional tests did not show any more trouble spots.
Pye left the hospital two days later, on a Tuesday, and by Saturday, he was out walking again in the neighborhood, where he saw Benton again. It had been less than a week since she took care of him in the ER, and she was glad to see him bounce back so quickly. "It's an awesome feeling to be able to help others in the community," she says, "especially the community that I grew up in."