A Tale of Two Hearts (and Attacks)

Published Monday, May 3, 2021

A Tale of Two Hearts (and Attacks)

Daniel and Theresa O`Connor are grateful for the emergency cardiac care they received at the Hospital; which allowed both of them to survive heart attacks within months of each other. Donations to support ongoing world-class cardiac care are gratefully accepted at: healthsciencesfoundation.ca/cardiac-donate


A Tale of Two Hearts (and Attacks)

By Heather Vita


It was just another ordinary February winter day for Daniel O’Connor and, like he had many, many times before, he went out to shovel show.

However, on this particular day, something just wasn’t right. As he was shovelling, he started feeling pain in his chest which took him by surprise. He stopped, thinking it was perhaps heartburn that he was experiencing, and, while he wasn’t shovelling, the pain seemed to subside a bit. So he took a chance and started shovelling again.

Immediately the pain got worse and he headed inside his house where he collapsed. Luckily his wife Theresa was nearby and called an ambulance and gave him some baby Aspirin. He was rushed to the Hospital.

Upon arriving at the Emergency Department, Daniel had a major heart attack – one termed ‘the widowmaker’ as only a very few people survive it. He doesn’t recall much but remembered, “The pain was really bad.”

Things weren’t looking good.

Staff couldn’t get any vital signs, the defibrillator wasn’t working. He was given CPR and finally, they found a faint heartbeat. Immediately he was taken to the Cardiac Catheterization Lab where he had two stents put in and then continued to recover in the Intensive Care Unit. “They just didn’t give up, and gave me excellent care. I’m alive because of that team, including Dr. Andrea MacDougall. She’s a life saver,” he said.

“Of course, I really don’t have any recollection of this,” he laughed. “I only came to the next day.”

What he does recall is that, “I had lots of different doctors coming to see me in the ICU afterwards. It was quite rare for me to survive that heart attack. Most of them told me how incredibly lucky I was.”

Additionally, his children and Theresa were there at the Hospital when he woke up. “It was amazing to have almost my entire family with me.”

Following 8 days in the Hospital, Daniel was discharged. But it wouldn’t be long before he’d need the Hospital again, not for him, but for Theresa.

Almost four months after Daniel’s heart attack, Theresa woke up in the middle of the night with cold sweats and nausea. She was rushed to the Hospital where it was determined she’d had a heart attack.

She also went to the Cardiac Catheterization Lab and had 4 stents placed, all of which collapsed. Dr. MacDougall, tried placing a 5th stent but it didn’t work either, as Theresa’s veins and arteries were quite thin.

Theresa was monitored for several days but wasn’t improving, so her care team decided that she needed a pacemaker, which helped greatly, however half of her heart didn’t respond at all. However she said, “I’m jubilant about the half that does work!”

In total coincidence she was placed in the same bed in the same room where Daniel had been only a few short months previously. The major difference? At the time of her heart attack in June, COVID-19 restrictions were in effect and she was unable to have visitors. Additionally her stay was about more than twice as long as Daniel’s. “I recall being able to call her once in the morning and once in the evening, but I couldn’t visit” said Daniel. “It was a very long three weeks for both of us.”

However despite the difficulties she encountered, Theresa was quick to add, “The nurses and the entire team that helped me were top notch. We’re so fortunate to have overcome both of our heart attacks with the help of everyone at the Hospital.”

Daniel concluded, “Everyday, even with COVID and everything, it’s still a beautiful day. We are very fortunate to be alive and we still have each other. We both hope we live to see the day when we can get all cardiac surgeries done right here in Thunder Bay – that will be really wonderful.”


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