A Community of Caregivers
Physicians: Abhimanyu Beri, MD; Robert Allen, MD
Kurt Frey, 76, of Berrien Springs, is beloved by the children and staff he worked with during his 17-year career as a Building Supervisor at Ruth Murdoch Elementary School. Years later, he would often receive a graduation invitation from a past student. So it was, that Kurt and his wife Debi, found themselves at the Berrien Springs fairgrounds one cold and rainy afternoon in May, watching the commencement of a former student.
As they were driving out of the fairgrounds after the ceremony, Debi asked Kurt where he would like to eat for lunch. Hearing no response, she turned and found him slumped over in the driver’s seat.
“He was blue-purple as could be,” said Debi, recalling the startling event. “All I could think was that he was in perfect health. He still worked full-time. He had one year until retirement. Our grandson had just turned two. He had to be okay.”
Debi later found out that Kurt’s heart had stopped beating and he had gone into cardiac arrest. She tried to revitalize him, thumping his chest and blowing into his nose. Suddenly, the car that had been at a standstill started moving. After stopping the rolling car, Debi got out and yelled for help. A young woman and two men came to her aid, performing CPR and calling 9-1-1. Shortly thereafter, a state trooper arrived and delivered a dose of electric current to Kurt’s heart using a defibrillator. From there he was transported to Lakeland Medical Center, St. Joseph.
This wasn’t his heart’s first encounter with the hospital. Kurt, at age 56, suffered a heart attack and had to undergo bypass surgery 20 years ago. Debi explains that this time was much more frightening. Because his heart had been restarted, Kurt had to be placed in a medically-induced coma for the next week while his body recovered.
In an attempt to determine why his heart had stopped so suddenly, electrophysiolgist, Abhimanyu Beri, MD, reviewed data from the loop recorder, a small device that records the heart's electrical activity, which Kurt had implanted in 2010. After comparing Kurt’s normal heart activity to the results of the monitor during the time of the incident, Dr. Beri determined that an electrical issue had stopped his heart and that he would need to have a pacemaker installed. The small device placed in Kurt’s chest would use low-energy electrical pulses to prompt his heart to beat at a normal rhythm.
All the while, Debi never left Kurt’s side. For the next three weeks, she recalls practically living at the hospital. A nurse herself, Debi was thankful for the many ways Kurt’s care team kept her informed of her husband’s care.
“[Dr.] Robert Allen was extraordinary when it came to keeping me up to date on everything that was going on, even when it looked bad,” she said. “Everyone was so professional and caring.”
Additionally, Debi was comforted by the fact that she was surrounded by so many people that loved and knew Kurt during their time in the hospital. Often she would turn around and find that the person serving her was a friend, former student, or acquaintance of Kurt’s that also happened to work at Lakeland. From the housekeeping staff to the nurses, the Frey’s felt cared for by the very individuals they had spent years caring for themselves.
"The staff treats you like family, no matter how busy they are,” said Debi.
It has been over a year since Dr. Beri successfully installed Kurt’s pacemaker, and while he is still regularly monitored, he has experienced no further issues with his heart. Now retired from his career at Ruth Murdoch, Kurt still volunteers there each week reading to the children. All the while, he remains thankful for the community of friends and neighbors who abundantly cared for him in his time of need.
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