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Wednesday, November 9, 2011

New lease on life after heart attack [and cardiac arrest]

Published Wednesday November 9, 2011 By Rick Ruggles WORLD-HERALD STAFF WRITER « Live Well - Health & MedicineShare

Reina Walls doesn't say she almost died that wintry morning on Jan. 31. She says she did die.

Her colleagues brought her back through quick action, CPR and a device that shocked the heart back into rhythm.

Walls earned an ovation Tuesday night from those at the American Heart Association's Go Red for Women Expo, a fundraiser in La Vista to fight heart disease among women. She considers herself a private person but believes she survived so she could share the message that heart attacks don't always come with chest pain or arm pain.

God "doesn't want you to keep miracles to yourself," Walls said Tuesday in an interview. "I don't think He did all that for me so I could keep it a secret."

The Bellevue woman felt fatigued and short of breath the weekend before it happened. Walls, who has always been slender, had tried to work out that weekend, but the treadmill quickly exhausted her. She missed church the next day at Salem Baptist in northeast Omaha. She thought she had the flu.

After dropping daughter Natalia off at Central High School that Monday morning, she drove through the snow to her job in customer service quality assurance at Metropolitan Utilities District's facility near 61st and Grover Streets. She has worked there for two decades and rarely missed a day.

Bonnie Savine, MUD director of compensation and benefits, heard a commotion and someone saying, "Call 911!" Savine hustled to the scene and saw Reina Walls on the floor.

Savine had taught CPR for about nine years but never had been called on to work on a heart attack victim. She began compressing Walls' chest. Soon, Walls took shallow breaths, which then faded. Savine kept going. Walls breathed shallow breaths again, then, none.

Walls' open eyes stared out and seemed blank. By this time, colleagues had begun to yell: "C'mon, Reina, you can do it!" Some wept. Some prayed.

Someone raced down to the lunchroom and grabbed the automated external defibrillator, a device that jolts the heart. They hooked the two pads to her chest, and the gadget monitored her heart. Then the AED said, "Shock advised."

A colleague pushed the button, and Walls' body visibly responded to the jolt. Savine went back to work, compressing Walls' chest, then stepped back. The AED shocked Walls' heart again.

The Omaha Fire Department's paramedics arrived and took over. They raced her to Bergan Mercy Medical Center. Savine wandered back to her work station. "Did that really just happen?" she wondered.

Doctors put a stent, or tiny metal cage, into a heavily blocked artery that had caused Walls' crisis. Walls survived.

Dr. Atul Ramachandran, Walls' heart specialist, said his patient lucked out because she collapsed in her workplace and not in the car or parking lot. Ramachandran said her colleagues gave invaluable CPR and defibrillation.

"I think it's accurate to say she, quote, died, and they revived her," he said. "She really is fortunate."

Because medical miracles are rarely simple, an addendum to Walls' saga was required in August. She felt bad again and went in to see Ramachandran. She thought the problem was back.

When doctors performed a cardiac catheterization to see how the artery was functioning, they found cells had grown inside the stent, causing further blockage.

Another procedure cleared the artery, and doctors put in another stent, this one coated with a medication to prevent or slow similar cell growth. Ramachandran called Walls' prognosis excellent.

Walls, who will only say she's "over 48" years old, said she's eating more chicken breasts and tilapia, and fewer hot wings and pizza. She hungers to live life fully, shed the stress, make eye contact, give compliments and be kind. Mainly, she said, when you're given a miracle, it's up to you to do something with it.

She quoted a Bible verse: "To whom much is given, much is required."

Contact the writer: 402-444-1123,

Runner who died was fit and ready for marathon, wife says

Posted: November 8, 2011 - 9:24pm | Updated: November 8, 2011 - 11:34pm By Constance Cooper

Cindy Thomas, widow of the 58-year-old runner who died in Saturday’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon, said her husband seemed to be in perfect health heading into the race.

It was Ulysses Thomas’ first marathon, but he’d trained extensively, Cindy Thomas said. He went to the gym, ran or rode his bike every day. “Tom” to his friends and family, Ulysses Thomas finished a 22-mile run while training for the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon, according to his wife. He had a complete physical about three months ago, she said, and everything was fine. His body fat percentage was less than 5 percent.

“He was the absolute picture of health.”

Ulysses and Cindy Thomas traveled to Savannah from their home in Mauldin, S.C., for the race. They would’ve been married 28 years Dec. 10.

Ulysses Thomas leaves behind two adult daughters, four grandchildren and six sisters. Originally from Florida, he spent 21 years in the Air Force, retiring in 1993. He was employed as a mechanical technician for Associated Fuel Pump Systems Corporation, in Anderson, S.C., when he died.

Cindy Thomas said her husband put on his Air Force uniform last year, to honor a friend who’d been commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Army. The uniform had been sitting in the closet for 17 years. It still fit.

Chatham County Deputy Coroner Sara Smith said it will be at least two months before a toxicology report from Ulysses Thomas’ autopsy reveals why he collapsed on the Truman Parkway, near Delesseps Avenue, a little before the race’s 23-mile mark.

Cindy Thomas said her husband was running with a friend, a woman who wasn’t as fast as he was. They’d started off with nine-minute miles but slowed down, Cindy Thomas said, at the friend’s request.

“He was not pushing himself at all” Cindy Thomas, 49, said, and never complained that anything was wrong. “... He was capable of running much faster.”

Cindy Thomas was waiting at the 25-mile mark to run the last 1.2 miles of the race with her husband. She expected to meet up with them about 12:30 p.m. Ulysses Thomas and his running partner, whose name his wife declined to give to protect the woman’s privacy, were sending her text messages from the race course, keeping her updated on their progress.

“She thought he’d bent over to adjust his knee brace,” Cindy Thomas said. “She got about two or three steps in front of him, turned to look back, and he just collapsed... He was basically gone. They couldn’t revive him.”

Organizers say that about 19,500 people ran the full or half Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon.

According to a 1996 study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, the risk of dying suddenly in a marathon because of cardiac problems is about 1 in 50,000.

Ulysses Thomas’ death was the third marathon fatality in less than a month.

A 35-year-old North Carolina firefighter died some 500 yards from the finish line on Oct. 9 during the Chicago Marathon.

Then, on Oct. 30, a 37-year-old man collapsed near the finish line of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Los Angeles half-marathon and died a short time later in a hospital.

Ulysses Thomas’ funeral will be held Saturday at 3 p.m. at the Mauldin United Methodist Church, 100 East Butler Road, in Mauldin, S.C. Cindy Thomas is asking that, in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the Greenville Area Interfaith Hospitality Network, P.O. Box 2083, Greenville, SC 29602,, or to Triune Mercy Center P.O. Box 3844 Greenville, S.C. 29608,