Every Second Counts

February 27 2008

Early response by Public Safety is credited with saving faculty member's life.

TERRE HAUTE, Ind. - What started out as just a normal Monday morning, quickly ended up changing the lives of two Indiana State University music department faculty members forever.

Thanks to two Indiana State Public Safety officers and a dispatcher, a heart attack victim fighting for his life now has a new lease on life and is back in the classroom.

Ted Piechocinski, associate professor and director of ISU’s music business program, went up to his office after teaching his 9 a.m. class on Jan. 14. His wife, Janet, an associate professor specializing in class piano and piano pedagogy, was waiting for her students to arrive for her 10 a.m. class, which met close to Piechocinski’s office. She decided to stop in and talk with her husband and followed him into his office.

That decision is something she will remember forever.

Following a brief conversation, Piechocinski collapsed, unconscious on the floor.

“It was as sudden as that,” Janet Piechocinski said.

Janet grabbed the cell phone and called ISU Public Safety. Tonia Tucker, who has worked 25 years as a dispatcher, was on the other end of the phone.

Emotions run high in these types of situations, according to Tucker, but dispatchers still need to gather information to pass along to responding officers.

“The hardest part is keeping the caller calm so they can provide much-needed information,” she said.

Janet was still on the phone with Tucker when Cpl. Ian Loomis arrived on the scene with his squad car’s portable automated external defibrillator (AED) unit in tow. Officer Dave Glick arrived shortly after, to find Loomis administering CPR. By that time, Piechocinski had turned purple and was not breathing.

Loomis continued CPR and administered a shock from the defibrillator before Piechocinski was transported by the Terre Haute Fire Department to Union Hospital. While en route to the hospital, Piechocinski’s heart needed to be shocked again by a defibrillator.

That treatment was crucial, according to Loomis.

“If you can perform CPR and administer a shock using a defibrillator within four minutes of an attack, it improves the patient’s odds of survival,” he said.

William Mercier, public safety director, agreed.

“I don’t think Ted would be alive today if it hadn’t been used,” he said.

“Following surgery for a blockage, it was a waiting game to see if he would suffer any aftereffects.

The next morning provided hope, not just to his wife and family, but also the medical staff. Piechocinski was brought out of sedation and was alert and responsive. Later in the day he could do simple tasks such as wiggling his foot and waving and began writing notes to his family and nurses.

Two days later, he was speaking and smiling and the following day he was up walking.

His recovery holds a special place in one nurse’s heart in Union Hospital’s Intensive Care Unit.

“I believe that Ted is a miracle,” said Billi McNeill, a registered nurse in ICU. “His miracle is due to the quick action of his wife and Officer Loomis. Without them, it may not of mattered how quickly the ambulance personnel and the doctors and nurses responded.”

According to Shantilal Patel, M.D., cardiologist with AP&S Clinic, Piechocinski overcame some significant odds.

The brain can sustain being without oxygen for a few minutes, but after eight minutes the odds of successful recovery begin to fall, Patel said, adding that age also plays a factor. In most cases, patients survive but they suffer brain damage in terms of speech and cognitive function. Piechocinski, at age 55, was beyond that eight minute mark when he arrived at Union.

“I was concerned about that the most,” Patel, one of the top cardiologists in the state of Indiana, said. “I was confident his heart would be fine, but I was worried about long-term damage to his brain.”

To his amazement, he found no evidence of neurological damage when he examined Piechocinski after he was brought out of sedation.

“That’s what I call a miracle,” Patel said. “It’s cases like this that keep us going in the medical field.”

“I feel extremely fortunate, given the odds,” said Piechocinski, a former publishing executive and music copyright attorney.

No one was happier to hear of Piechocinski’s recovery than the public safety staff, especially the officers who worked the call.

Loomis, who has been with public safety a little more than two years, checked up on Piechocinski while he was a patient at Union.

“He’s amazing,” Loomis, a former firefighter, said.

“There’s no better feeling that a police officer can have than to bring someone back,” Mercier said.

Piechocinski credits the Indiana State community with providing him the strength he needed to recover.

“I knew I had a lot of people pulling for me • the university, the music department, students and people I didn’t even know,” he added.

Piechocinski said it wasn’t entirely luck that determined his survival. Instead it was preparation and quick response.

“The way public safety responded was tremendous,” Piechocinski said. “And I can’t say enough about the care I received from Dr. Patel and everyone at Union Hospital. It was a group effort, including the ISU community, that made my recovery possible.”

Piechocinski left the hospital eight days after his heart attack, with a permanent defibrillator surgically implanted in his chest and a new outlook on life.

“I’m learning to live a different way,” he said. “I’m implementing a variety of lifestyle changes.”

In addition to changes in his eating and work habits, Piechocinski is a strong advocate of the availability of portable defibrillators.

Indiana State has 13 units on campus, including four portable units. Nine are located in high-traffic areas, such as Hulman Center, Tirey Hall, Hulman Memorial Student Union and the Arena. All public safety squad cars are equipped with a unit, according to Sherry O’Neal, Indiana State’s risk manager. The units, purchased on the recommendation of former associate vice president of administration Bob Murray and former Student Health Center medical director Dorene Hojnicki, have been in place since Summer 2001.

Fully aware that the use of a defibrillator saved his life, Piechocinski is grateful that the university equipped their squad cars with the devices.

“That isn’t the case everywhere,” he lamented.

Piechocinski came to this realization after talking with McNeill, whose husband is a deputy sheriff in Parke County and doesn’t have access to defibrillators.

“I would love to see us, as a community, find a way to get defibrillators into those vehicles,” he said.

In many cases, including Piechocinski’s, law enforcement officers arrive on the scene of an emergency before ambulance personnel.

“If defibrillators were provided to all officers, I believe that we could experience more success stories like Ted’s,” McNeill said. “But the sad reality is that portable defibrillators are expensive and for departments that can barely pay a salary, it's difficult for them to purchase units for all their vehicles.”

Securing outside funding or grant money is an option. Loomis, who once worked on a grant to obtain more portable defibrillators, said there is funding available for departments and businesses to obtain the device.

“There’s money available. You just need to do some research and sit down and apply for it,” he added.

Once the equipment is received, it’s important to get a cross-section of people trained to use it, said Lori Vancza, occupational safety specialist with Indiana State’s Office of Environmental Safety.

“What’s a life worth? To be able to save a life is priceless. Learning how to use a defibrillator is simple and easy to learn,” she said.

Vancza has trained 100 Indiana State employees - public safety officers, community service officers and grounds crew workers and Hulman Center staff - on how to use a defibrillator since March. Certification in CPR/AED is good for two years, following American Heart Association guidelines, Vancza said

There’s no need to worry about forgetting a step, Vancza said, the units talk you through the process.

“Anyone can do this,” she assured.

Tucker agreed, adding that one never knows when they could be called upon to provide assistance.

“Everyone needs training in how to use a defibrillator and administer CPR,” Tucker said. “Cardiac arrest could strike anyone of us at anytime.”

“More people need access to this technology. I’m living proof the difference a defibrillator makes,” Piechocinski said.

In addition to making sure Wabash Valley residents have access to life-saving defibrillators, the Piechocinskis are strong advocates of heart disease awareness.

“I’d like to learn CPR and how to use a defibrillator so I can help others,” Piechocinski said.

Prevention is the key message from his wife, Janet.

“People need to realize that heart disease can be silent. Make time to get to a doctor and get an annual physical,” she said.

In addition to regular medical care, she is a true believer in eating right and healthy work habits.

“People need to take the time to take care of themselves,” she added.

Piechocinski returned to the classroom at Indiana State on Feb. 6, less than a month after that fateful Monday morning, but it wasn’t easy to return to his office and his routine.

“I was a little nervous,” he said. “These are young adults and they knew what had happened. We are like a family in the music department and they deserved straight answers.”

At the beginning of his classes, he talked frankly and openly about the experience with his students. He was touched to hear about the impact it had on them.

“I had one student who said ‘we know you have our backs and this time we had yours,’” he recalled.

Students were just one group Piechocinski thanked upon his return. He also thanked friends and colleagues.

“I am convinced the support I received from all of them had a huge impact on my ability to bounce back so quickly,” he said.

In addition to thanking the students who supported him, Piechocinski had the chance to offer thanks to the officers who saved his life on Friday. Loomis, Glick and Tucker were recognized by Indiana State’s Board of Trustees for their service.

“I just can’t thank them enough,” Piechocinski said. “I owe my survival to them.”

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Ted Piechocinski is back doing what he enjoys - teaching students.

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They had his back - Ted Piechocinski with students from his Introduction to the Music Industry class.

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Ted and Janet Piechocinski

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Indiana State honored the three officers for their service. President Lloyd W. Benjamin III, Officer Dave Glick, dispatcher Tonia Tucker, Ted Piechocinski, Cpl. Ian Loomis and Janet Piechocinski.

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Ted Piechocinski hugs Officer Dave Glick during Friday’s Board of Trustees meeting.

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Ted Piechocinski offers thanks to the officers who saved his life during Friday’s Board of Trustees meeting.

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Contact and Writer: Paula Meyer, ISU Communications & Marketing, (812) 237-3783 or pmeyer4@isugw.indstate.edu

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Story Highlights

Early response by Public Safety is credited with saving faculty member's life.

Thanks to two Indiana State Public Safety officers and a dispatcher, a heart attack victim fighting for his life now has a new lease on life and is back in the classroom.

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