June 17, 2022 -- On a day like any other this past February, Ethan Bradshaw, 30, a state trooper from North Carolina, was working out at the gym with two trooper friends when he suddenly began having chest pain and numbness in his arm.
Thinking he had overexerted himself -- he routinely trains with professional fighters -- Bradshaw, who is also a Brazilian jiu-jitsu instructor and is expecting his first child with his wife, Mickaela, next month, told his friends he wasn’t feeling well.
“I definitely felt tired and my chest started to hurt,” he says. “I didn’t know if I hit my chest during that training session. I usually leave that session pretty sore -- we kick, punch, and roll around on the ground.”
He then decided to drive home and rest before his next shift began that afternoon.
When he got home, the pain intensified and he began vomiting. Realizing something was very wrong, he called two fellow state troopers who also work as paramedics. Both urged him to get to the emergency room -- fast.
“I remember calling them and saying, ‘Hey, my chest is killing me, my left arm feels painful, I’m throwing up, and I have pain in my jaw,’” he says. “Both told me I was having a heart attack. According to them, there was no way I just overdid it at the gym. In fact, they said ‘if you don’t go to the hospital right now, we’re going to pick you up.’”
Without waiting for an ambulance, he did the 10-minute drive on his own, calling his wife at work along the way to tell her what was happening.
“I honestly don’t remember the car ride a whole lot,” he says. “But I know my wife had a sense that something was very wrong because I don’t go to the doctor unless something is really wrong.”
When he arrived in the emergency room, his wife was waiting for him. The rest is a blur as he has zero recall of what happened next. Instead, he only has a timeline of events, thanks to the recollections of his wife and his mother-in-law (who works at the hospital).
That’s because Bradshaw’s condition worsened immediately after he handed his license and insurance card to his wife. Shortly thereafter, he collapsed and went into cardiac arrest in the waiting room.
Medical personnel shocked Bradshaw seven times and performed CPR for 40 minutes before finally getting his pulse back. From there, he was transferred via ambulance to Forsyth Medical Center in Winston-Salem.
It was no ordinary transfer.
“When I started having my heart attack, Mickaela called my friend Austin, another trooper, who thought she was joking,” he says. “I was the last one you’d think would have had a heart attack. When she told him she wasn’t joking, he started making calls. That’s how it happened that I was escorted by highway patrol.”
At Forsyth, he was treated by Samuel Turner, MD, the cardiologist who ended up saving his life.
The situation was grave.
When he arrived in the hospital’s catheterization lab, Bradshaw was in cardiac shock, a life-threatening emergency that happens when your heart cannot pump enough blood and oxygen to the brain and other vital organs.
Right away, Turner used a tiny heart pump (known as an Impella CP), which allowed his heart to rest before stents were placed. All the while, 100 state troopers held a vigil for him in the hospital.
From there, he spent 3 weeks in the hospital, including 10 days in the ICU and a few days on a ventilator.
The entire time, Mickaela, who was 4 months pregnant, stayed by his side.
“She stayed in my room, right next to me, for the entire 3 weeks,” he says. “The nurses finally coaxed her to get a shower after 10 days, and they would force her to go and get something to eat. She was fully focused on staying being by my side. I’m very lucky.”
As he recovered, he spent 1 intensive week doing cardiac rehab.
“I was very emotional at the beginning,” he says. “I went from thinking I was this strong guy who could take on the world. I worked out on the day of my heart attack and I had a baby on the way, but I could barely walk. At first, the goal was to have me move my legs and, a couple of days later, the goal was to get me to stand up.”
From there, he continued making progress, using a walker to walk for 20 yards.
“I slowly got better,” he says, adding that he also worked to regain the leg strength he would need to walk up the stairs to his house once he was discharged.
Today, he continues to do cardiac rehab, which consists of 30 minutes on the stationary bike while his heart is monitored, 30 minutes on the elliptical, and 30 minutes of training and mediation.
Three weeks ago, Bradshaw returned to work.
“I feel amazing and I’m back to doing all the things I did before,” he says. “Five months after my heart attack, there’s nothing I can’t do.”
Making Big Lifestyle Changes
While Bradshaw says his grandfather and one of his uncles had heart attacks in their 50s, his cardiologist isn’t sure why he had one at just 30 years old.
What did need to change, however, were some of Bradshaw’s pre-heart attack habits.
“I was on a typical law enforcement diet, which included eating late, not sleeping a lot, and drinking an unreal amount of caffeine,” he says. “I probably drank 10 cups of coffee a day and, during the night shift, I added an energy drink.” (He’s now allowed just two cups a day.)
He also switched to a Mediterranean diet that’s rich in lean meats and vegetables.
“Before this happened, I was following an old bodybuilder type of diet, which included lots of meat and few veggies or carbs,” he says. “I would eat as much protein as I could, which meant a lot of red meat or pork.”
Ultimately, Bradshaw learned the importance of listening to your body and keeping tabs on your feelings.
“I’d also add that something like this can really mess with you mentally,” he says. “I worried a lot about this happening again. My doctors help. They tell me to meditate, exercise, and follow a heart-healthy diet. They tell me that’s the best way to prevent this from happening again, and I believe them.”