Clayton Orr’s first heart attack struck while he was turning soil in a field after supper.
The second one almost killed him en route to the hospital.
This STARS Very Important Patient remembers the evening everything changed for him — and the numerous people along the way who worked to ensure he lived to tell about it.
The patriarch of a large family, Clayton was preparing for springtime seeding. He’d been feeling unwell all day, and while driving a tractor he suddenly realized he needed help.
“I was still able to communicate back to my son to tell him to come get me,” said Clayton. “I knew that something was wrong.”
They reached home, and his wife Barbara immediately chose to take him to the hospital.
But which one? Turn left toward the small-town health centre 15 minutes away, or turn right toward the larger hospital more than 30 minutes away?
She opted for the shorter drive knowing the trade-off was a lower-resourced hospital.
“We got about three or four minutes down the road,” said Barbara, “and Clayton kind of kicked the dash. He was very agitated. He smashed out all the vents with his foot.”
And then he went unconscious.
“He had his massive heart attack right at that time and passed out,” she said. “He was not breathing or anything. And we still had an eight- to 10-minute trip to town.”
“She lost me about halfway to the hospital,” said Clayton. “And she started pounding my chest as she was driving.”
Minutes later, the hospital in sight, she laid on the horn before screeching to a halt at the front doors. A staff member asked if she needed help.
“I said, ‘My husband has died in my car. Yes, I need help.’ ”
As fate would have it, a doctor was at the small facility, and he immediately provided care to Clayton.
“It took 30 minutes to get him breathing or any stability in him at all,” said Barbara. “I didn’t think there was a lot of hope.”
To have any, Clayton needed to quickly reach a cath lab at a trauma centre in the city.
STARS was dispatched to help.
“And STARS, I remember them walking into the room,” said Barbara. “I was astonished at their professionality and friendliness.
It was a 40-minute return flight.
“In that time,” said Clayton, “they lost me three times. Thanks to STARS that they have the equipment and the ability to keep me alive.”
In the lab, medical staff found a blockage in Clayton’s main artery going to his heart.
“They call it the widow-maker because they say you don’t have much chance to live.”
He spent the next three weeks recovering in the hospital, with a bird’s-eye view of the helipad.
“I would see the helicopter come in two or three times a day sometimes and know that they were saving someone else’s life.”
The Orrs have been longtime supporters of STARS, but they never dreamed they’d one day be on the receiving end.
“I want to give back,” said Clayton. “Not too many people survive a massive heart attack like I did, but I was one of the blessed ones that did. I don’t want to take that for granted… and so if there’s anything I can do along the way to make sure another person survives, then I want to do that.”
“Honestly, I would do anything for STARS,” she said, “because it’s given our life back, it’s given us time with our grandchildren. I don’t think my husband would be here if it wasn’t for STARS. I’m sure he wouldn’t be.”