Middleton Man Discusses Long Road to Recovery After Heart Attack, Car Crash, Organ Transplant

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MTT News's picture
By: 
Michelle Phillips
Scott has faced a long recovery, including a month-long stay in the hospital. He is pictured here signing “I love you” from his hospital bed after the accident. Scott learned some sign language, so he could communicate while he was on a ventilator.

MIDDLETON–Scott Kirkpatrick remembers getting in his car on the morning of July 1, 2017 to go to Weight Watchers. That would be the last thing the Middleton man would remember of the month of July.

Scott had a massive heart attack while driving and was doing 80 mph down Gammon Road near West Towne. Video cameras showed the car speeding down the busy street and turning sharply to avoid a head-on collision, instead, barely clipping another car before smashing into a tree.

“I have been a Christian my whole life, and I truly believe someone was in the car with me that day that turned the wheel,” he speculated.

When emergency personnel arrived on the scene, they had to extract Scott from the vehicle using the Jaws of Life. Scott appeared conscious and was talking to EMTs when they arrived. They rushed him to the hospital and had to revive him twice with a defibrillator.

“I was home alone, my family was out of town, and my daughter (Carly) was the first one at the hospital,” Scott said.

His wife Carrie was at her sister’s cabin in Hayward, about four hours from Madison when she got a call from UW-Madison social worker Ed Stoll. Carrie, who works at A Place for Mom said she was used to getting calls from social workers, and immediate thought she needed to go back to the cabin to get intake paperwork.

“When he told me my husband was in a serious accident I felt like I was in shock and I couldn’t breathe and then he was asking me questions about does my husband drink? At this time, they still didn’t know that he had had a massive heart attack, which caused a car accident, so everything was on the table in terms of why would he drive into a tree going 80 miles an hour?” Carrie recalled, adding that Stoll told her she needed to get to the hospital right away.

Scott’s injuries were numerous, he had a collapsed lung, liver lacerations, rib fractions, a pelvic fracture, shattered ankles, and a broken leg. Doctors would discover he had a heart attack and later suffered kidney failure.

During heart surgery, doctors realized Scott had a hereditary valve condition, and discovered that his mother had the same condition. His heart was only working at about 25 percent and doctors installed an Impella, a device that pumps blood for the heart and stents. His lungs and kidneys were both failing, and he was on a respirator and received dialysis.

Scott began to get stronger, but would have setbacks, including an infection that Dr. Ford Ballentyne, his hospital physician, could not pinpoint. The infection delayed his progress and the cocktail of pain killers was making him hallucinate. “I was having some crazy nightmares from the drugs,” Scott stated, and he would sometimes wake in a state of terror.

“We were in shock it was just really hard not knowing if Scott was going to live or die he was in very, very critical condition for about 2 1/2 weeks.  It was hard not to be able to communicate with Scott because he had a breathing tube in and it was heartbreaking to see him scared and struggling because he also had to be in restraints so that he didn’t pull out any of his IVs or his breathing tube,” Carrie added.

Scott slowly improved. The infection cleared up and the breathing tube was removed. After a month in the hospital Scott was moved to a rehabilitation facility to regain strength. All the while wife, daughter, son Riley and friends made many visits. They brought photos of things he liked to do for encouragement and kept him company during the lengthy recovery.

“It was a really big heart attack,” Scott said. “I spent three months in rehab, and got out in November, just in time for the holidays.

It was clear that Scott would need a heart transplant, and in January 2018 he was put on the transplant list, fully expecting to wait years for a heart. A defibrillator was install in Scott as he waited for a heart. Much to his surprise, he received a call in February with news of a match. After waiting for about a day, Scott went in for the surgery, which was perform by Dr. Josh Hermsen, and took about six hours.

A person making the decision to donate organs is under a great deal of pressure,” Scott said. “The organs must be harvested immediately. I am very grateful to the family that donated my heart. Many people can live because of just one person.” Once he was well enough Donate 4 Life helped him write a letter of appreciation to the family, guiding him on what to say, and what not to say.

Once the surgery was complete, Scott was placed on anti-rejection medication along with a slew of other medications, including steroids and antibiotics. He also must have biopsies done regularly on his heart tissue. Cells are scraped from the heart and tested. He said that the biopsies were every day at first, then once a week and now they are down to once a month.

Carrie said she wishes they were given more information on the side effects of the anti-rejection medication. “We weren’t really prepared for is how all the anti-rejection medications can change behavior...it would have been nice just to have a little bit more detailed conversation on how to work through this and how to not take things personally.”

Now, four months after the heart transplant, Scott is still undergoing medical procedures, most recently throat surgery to repair his vocal cords, which were damaged by the tubes in his throat. His voice, now raspy, prevents him from one of his favorite activities, singing in the St. Luke’s Lutheran Church, but he is hopeful that one day he will sing again.

“Scott also has complications due to both ankles being severely broken in the car accident and he suffers from severe migraines and his diabetes is not well-managed at this point in time.  He gets around very slowly with a cane or he also likes to use hiking walking sticks,” Carrie included.

Scott said he knows he is very lucky to alive, and that he would not be here if it weren’t for not only the donation of the heart, but also blood. He had to undergo several transfusions, and blood was needed for every surgery. He encourages people to donate both blood and organs.

On June 14, a blood drive will be held in Scott’s honor at St. Luke’s. Julie Houg, a fellow churchgoer who has organized blood drives and donated 45 gallons of blood herself, was touched by Scott’s story and wanted to organize a drive in his name.

“I've been coordinating the drives for St. Luke's since about 2011. When I learned of Scott's heart transplant, I thought we needed to honor not just Scott, but all folks who have received transplants and the blood that keeps those organs vital. Of course, we never lose sight of where those organs come from, so this will be sort of a ‘silent remembrance’ of the families who made the ultimate difficult decision, to let their loved ones live on through transplant,” Julie explained.

She said response to the drive has been overwhelming and 64 people have already signed up to give blood next Thursday.

Scott and Carrie both agree that life has gotten back to a little bit of normalcy. “I actually went back to work in September. The company I work for, Wisnet, set me up with a laptop and iPad. I am able to walk to the coffeeshop, and I’ll be able to drive again in July,” he said.

Carrie added, “We have some of our same dinner routines and favorite restaurants and even are getting back to our weight watcher meetings.”

Scott still has a long road ahead and his weeks are filled up with multiple doctor’s appointments with different specialists. Carrie explained, “Scott averages about five to 10 different doctor’s appointments per week for different specialties including folks to make sure he is not having any rejection from the heart transplant to orthopedic specialist for his ankles, specialists to make sure his kidneys are working, specialists to make sure his diabetes is controlled and specialists to make sure he’s mentally able to work through everything that happened. We’ve got a lot of great professionals from the UW Health team, which we are grateful for, but it is very time-consuming.”

Carrie said one of the additional challenges has been the expense of all of the treatments, surgeries and hospital time. Carly set up a Go Fund Me account, which has help with about half of the expenses not covered by insurance. “Even with insurance there are deductibles and not everything is covered.  You have that along with the high cost of medications. And most heart transplant patients are unable to work for 6-12 months. We are lucky, and it is very unique that Scott has miraculously worked part time since about 2 months after his accident.”

As far as advice for others going through a tragedy such as this, Carrie said friends and family want to help. “Let your friends and family help. They all desperately want to know what to do so you actually have to tell them that yes it would be helpful for you to bring meals, yes I could really use somebody to mow my lawn, yes I could really use some help with transportation to doctor’s appointments,” she stated.

“I would not be here today if it weren’t for a lot of people I’ve never met. The whole thing is overwhelming. I want to keep him in mind as I go forward and respect his family in the way that I live my life. I want to be a grandpa. I want to walk my daughter down the aisle. You should never take life for granted,” he stated.

Scott said there is no way he could have gotten through this ordeal without Carrie’s strength. “I owe my wife so much. She has been so strong through this whole thing. Several times the doctors said, ‘He’s not going to make it.’ For her to be strong through all of that is amazing,” he concluded.

If you would like to donate blood at St. Luke’s on June 14, call 1-800-RED CROSS or go to redcrossblood.org to make an appointment. The drive will be held from 12-6 p.m.

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