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  Back to previous page ¦ Heart stories ¦ Search stories

Fast-acting, lifesaving

Shawn Gieszler has normal heart function after suffering a heart attack.
Shawn Gieszler has normal heart function after suffering a heart attack.
  The ominous words Shawn Gieszler heard amid the fog of his heart attack are the last he remembers from his night in the Sanford Emergency & Trauma Center.

“I remember them getting me into one of the rooms, and I kept telling them, ‘You’ve gotta help me,’” the 48-year-old Bismarck man said.

“The next thing I can remember is them shaving my chest and saying, ‘We had to shock him once.’ Then, I was pretty much out.”

The shock was from a defibrillator. Gieszler had fallen into cardiac arrest. He had arrived at the Emergency & Trauma Center just in time.

Because of the quick work by the Sanford Emergency & Trauma Center staff and those on call in the cardiac catheterization lab, Gieszler survived his harrowing ordeal. With rehabilitation and follow-up care, his heart function is back to normal.

On the night of the heart attack, Gieszler lay down for bed and started experiencing an upset stomach. He stood up, and the

discomfort went away temporarily. It returned as soon as he went back to bed, though, and, this time, heavy sweating and slight chest pain accompanied the stomach ache.

He knew something was wrong, and his wife drove him to the Emergency & Trauma Center immediately.

“The faster you come in and get taken care of, the less permanent damage there is to the heart,” said Richard Howard, MD, a Sanford Health cardiologist who provides Gieszler’s follow-up care.

When Gieszler arrived in the Emergency & Trauma Center, he slipped into cardiac arrest. The emergency staff shocked his heart back to life, got Gieszler stabilized and activated the emergency heart team that’s on call 24 hours a day.

“That whole team kicks in and starts working together. A phone call goes in, and, within 20 minutes, the cath lab is open,” Dr. Howard said. “It’s a well-orchestrated event. It’s almost like a ballet. It’s all about how quickly you can get the patient in.”

  Dr. Richard Howard
Howard, MD


In the cardiac catheterization lab, the Sanford Health team, gently threaded a long, flexible tube—called a catheter—tipped with a balloon through the blocked blood vessel that caused the heart attack. The balloon inflated inside the vessel, opening it up and allowing blood to flow.

“I’m just thankful that they were there and could provide that service so quickly,” Gieszler said. “It’s out of your hands when you come in. To have people that trained and knowledgeable, I owe them everything.”

Following the procedure, Gieszler spent five nights in the hospital recovering before returning home.

He participated in Sanford Health’s cardiac rehabilitation program where he learned about exercises and other lifestyle adjustments he could make to strengthen his heart and mitigate his risk of future heart trouble.

“The most beneficial thing about cardiac rehab for me was the staff helping me figure out what I could do for exercises,” Gieszler said. “When you have people watching and monitoring you, you get to know where your limits are.”

Under Dr. Howard’s guidance, Gieszler started a regimen of statins, which are cholesterol-lowering medications, and daily aspirin.

In a follow-up diagnostic screening in the catheterization lab, Dr. Howard found no blockages in Gieszler’s blood vessels.

Gieszler has adhered to Dr. Howard’s medication recommendations, and he has cut fast food and other fried food out of his diet. He feels as good, if not better, than he did before his heart attack.

“He had a heart attack that could’ve killed him,” Dr. Howard said, “but by getting treated quickly and taking the right medications after, he has normal heart function.”

Click here for more information on Sanford Cardiology or call (701) 323-5202.


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