GREENFIELD — Dave Frenette was about 60 feet up in a Greenfield tree one afternoon last summer when he started to feel odd.
He was more than 500 miles away from his home near Rochester, New York, on a business trip with other arborists, trimming damaged trees in the yard of a Hancock County home. Suddenly, he began to notice a tightness in his chest, a feeling like swallowing a handful of sawdust, he said.
It was June 11 — a date now carved into his memory — and Frenette was having a heart attack.
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He believes if it weren’t for the quick and careful work of a team at Hancock Regional Hospital, he would have died that day. His heart stopped during emergency surgery, and the doctors at the Greenfield facility kept him alive.
Frenette and his wife, Laurie, were recently reunited with the local medical team who saved him. The couple traveled from their hometown in northwest New York to Greenfield on Saturday to visit with the dozen medical professionals who had a hand in his surgery and recovery.
They thanked the doctors, nurses and EMTs who worked on Dave Frenette and hailed the staffers for their kindness and hospitality. They shared a meal in the hospital’s cancer center and recounted every moment of that day in June.
“For such a tragic experience, it was fantastic,” Laurie Frenette said. “To them, it was just another day at work. In their eyes, they didn’t do anything unusual. But their work has a ripple effect.”
Dave Frenette had been trimming a tree when he started to feel a pain in his chest. He was not necessarily feeling sick, but he could tell something was wrong, he said, and it was more than just the heat of the day getting to him.
Frenette said a buddy called 911 after noticing he was “as white as a ghost.”
Medics from the Greenfield Fire Territory, including Joe Cales, arrived at the work site minutes later. Cales said Frenette had the same demeanor on the day of his heart attack as he did on the day of the reunion. Frenette had everyone in stitches, making jokes about everything from his medical history to the medics’ driving skills, Cales said.
After the ambulance arrived at the hospital, Frenette went through a series of tests that confirmed the heart attack and showed he needed immediate surgery.
Frenette said the last thing he remembers before he was put under anesthesia was cardiac specialist Dr. Jason Jayroe talking to him.
Jayroe told Frenette he’d see him safely on the other side; but the message he received when he woke up was quite different, Frenette said.
“The doctor just looked at me and said, ‘You died, Dave,’” Frenette recalled.
Jayroe is still not sure what caused Frenette to have a heart attack. He remembers opening Frenette’s chest and seeing a healthy heart, and everything about the surgery was going well until Jayroe tried to unblock the affected artery.
Frenette’s heart stopped completely. A Code Blue was called, alerting the hospital’s medical staff to a cardiac arrest, and a special team dedicated to resuscitation started working on Frenette.
As he watched the code team work, registered nurse Adam Wilhelm took a moment to call the man’s wife, Laurie, to let her know what was going on.
Laurie Frenette remembers Wilhelm calmly explaining to her what was happening, while never letting on about the severity of the situation. That kept her from panicking while she searched for flights to Indianapolis, she said. Wilhelm told her to stay near her phone so he could call her with every update, he said.
Wilhelm said kindness is something he strives for with every patient.
“Bad things happen in hospitals sometimes. That’s one thing we can do no matter what happens — be kind,” Wilhelm said.
The code team worked for nearly 15 minutes to revive Frenette by doing chest compressions. The doctors gave him shots of adrenaline and used a defibrillator at least twice, Frenette said.
Jayroe believed the healthy state of Frenette’s heart is what caused the complications, he said. Had Frenette been sick before the surgery, had his heart been damaged in some way, the organ would have adapted over time to the lack of blood flow, and the shock of the condition would not have stopped completely, Jayroe said.
Eventually, the code team’s efforts took effect, and Frenette was headed to the recovery room, Jayroe said.
Every person the couple met during their stint at the Greenfield hospital showed them kindness and respect, they said. They wanted to make sure the facility’s leadership knew how thankful they were, so Laurie Frenette wrote a letter to hospital’s CEO Steve Long.
Long said he receives thank-you cards regularly but never one so detailed as what the Frenettes wrote. He decided to arrange a reunion to bring the couple back to Greenfield to meet the team who saved Dave’s life.
The Frenettes’ visit was filmed by a videographer, who will make a short documentary, which Long will show at conferences and gatherings.
The visit was filled with laughter and tears of gratitude. As the doctors retold the battle it took to bring him back to life, Dave Frenette couldn’t help but smile. He’s cheated death twice before, he said: As a teen, he was caught in house fire; and he survived a serious car wreck in the 1980s.
Someone wants him here, he said.
“It’s pretty crazy,” he said. “But I’m here because I’m supposed to be alive.”