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Jim's Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator Story

Jun 6, 2019

It’s often said that the third time’s the charm. But Jim Arena, who suffered a handful of cardiac events in three weeks during August 2015, credits MetroWest Medical Center with saving his life after it became the third hospital in which he was treated in this short span. 

Jim, 55, suffered a mild heart attack as he and his family drove through Maine in early August. Shortly after a three-day hospital stay in which a stent was inserted to prop open a narrowed cardiac artery, the Westborough resident woke up with chest pains and was rushed to another hospital. But nothing was found. A week later, waking up yet again with chest pains, he told ambulance drivers to take him to MetroWest.

By then, the father of four had established contact with MetroWest cardiologist Christopher Gange, M.D., who modified Jim’s heart medications and sent him home with a plan to bring Jim back for a cardiac stress test. Dr. Gange determined that Jim’s ongoing cardiac symptoms were due to coronary artery vasospasms — when vessels supplying blood to the heart constrict, reducing flow.

But three days later, just as Jim finished the cardiac stress test at the Heart Center of MetroWest, he went into cardiopulmonary arrest (“code blue”). His pulse became so erratic from ventricular tachycardia — a too-rapid rhythm — that he went into ventricular fibrillation, the leading cause of sudden cardiac death. 

“I feel like the luckiest guy in the world,” says Jim, a program director at the American defense contractor Raytheon. “If you have to go into ventricular fibrillation, you want to do that at a place like MetroWest Medical Center. I couldn’t have scripted this any better.”

‘Remarkable’ Staff Who Care 

The day after this near-cataclysmic event, cardiologists at MetroWest Medical Center inserted an ICD, or implantable cardioverter defibrillator, in Jim’s chest. The device keeps track of his heart rate and can deliver an electric shock to his heart if it again begins to beat chaotically. 

But so far that hasn’t happened. Jim visits Dr. Gange and MetroWest for scheduled follow-up care, relishing the relationships he’s formed with staff members. In addition to Dr. Gange, who’s become a personal friend, Jim also thinks fondly of Cathy Buell, director of nursing in the Cardiovascular Unit, who held his hand after he was resuscitated until his wife Debbie arrived.    

“These people are remarkable,” he says. “It all comes down to great leadership and great people. I get the sense every time I visit that the quality of care, and concern and attention to detail is just remarkable from top to bottom.” 

Jim has used his gift of extra time to overhaul his lifestyle, including losing 35 pounds and changing his diet. His cholesterol and blood pressure have dropped dramatically, and “I’m in the best shape I’ve been in 30 years,” he says. “I look like a million bucks.” 

“Life is so fragile,” he adds. “I’m trying to spend the time with my wife and kids now versus worrying about Jim Arena.”