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By Wm. Shawn Weigel
The last thing Vic Dupuis recalls of the afternoon of July 27 was taking a seat on a golf cart.
“I remember driving to the third tee, and then my head went back, my eyes dialed and I was turning blue,” the 52-year-old Chadds Ford resident and Unionville-Chadds Ford School District board member said.
The next thing he vividly recalls is waking up in Chester County Hospital.
In between those events, a story unfolded that Dupuis said was much harder on those who helped than it was on him.
“I mean I was out cold,” he said. “I couldn’t imaging being the one standing there watching your friend on the ground.”
Dupuis was participating in an early afternoon golf tournament with a few friends at the Kennett Country Club when he was suddenly and utterly unexpectedly affected with a rare pulmonary issue.
Dupuis had a sudden cardiac arrest (SCA), which is significantly different than a “regular” heart attack that is typically caused by arterial blockage.
With no history of heart disease in his family or his personal history, and being in relatively good health otherwise, Dupuis said the cause of the SCA came as shock: sarcoidosis, the disease made famous by a certain television show starring a certain curmudgeonly doctor.
“Yeah, I’m a ‘House’ case,” Dupuis said with a laugh.
Sarcoidosis is a relatively rare disorder that comes with a host of symptoms, which made it an ideal candidate during the differential diagnosis portion of nearly every episode of “House.”
Dupuis, however, experienced none of those symptoms prior to literally dropping over at the golf course.
How the disease affected his heart, Dupuis said, is by causing cells to group together into clusters, called “sarcoids,” that can then end up in literally any organ if they enter the bloodstream.
In Dupuis’ case, one hit his heart in just the right spot to disrupt the electrical impulse of the organ, causing the SCA.
“In hindsight, it’s not one of those ailments people look for, it’s not something you’d expect,” Dupuis said.
Fast thinking on the part of his partner, Tom Henry, prevented Dupuis from becoming another sad SCA statistic, he said.
“Nine percent of people who experience a sudden cardiac arrest die, and that’s the same number now as it was in the 70s,” Dupuis said.
Dupuis also attributes Henry’s “big mouth” as having saved his hide, as his calls for help attracted a doctor and an anesthesiologist at a nearby tee – one of whom carried an “epi-pen,” a self-administered shot of adrenaline.
“They gave me the shot and took turns administering CPR,” Dupuis said. “Meanwhile, my partner remembered seeing a portable cardiac stimulator in the clubhouse, so he ran to get that. And they slapped that on me and I came back.”
Dupuis has no memory of lying on the green, however, and only a few flashes of the ride to the hospital.
Cue the “House” theme music, and cut to the University of Pennsylvania hospital, where he received intensive testing and, ultimately, his diagnosis.
Dupuis said that since the disease is usually discovered by exclusion, the more advanced cases can be problematic and can even be life-threatening.
“In my situation, they discovered it in the early stage, and they’re saying I could be out of it in six months to a year,” he said.
He also said that his doctors informed him that the SCA was a freak occurrence and that he shouldn’t be concerned about it happening again.
They still installed a defribulator in his chest, just in case.
Dupuis knows he’s lucky to be alive and that he knows he’s here only because of a lot of work from good people who just happened to be in the right place at the right time.
“It changes your life,” he said of the experience. “Because you certainly appreciate every day a little more, you hug your kids a little harder. I mean it took the EMTs eight minutes to get there. And they said if they would have been too late if it weren’t for the help I’d received.”
He’s also very thankful for the help he received, from both his friends and from total strangers who came to his assistance.
“That’s not a call anybody wants to get,” he said. “I mean, I was the person who had easiest time. It was a much harder experience for them than for me.”
Dupuis was back to work soon after the experience, and was even at last Monday’s school board meeting, where he took a little gentle ribbing from fellow board member Keith Knauss.
“Way to get out of a bad golf game, Vic,” Knauss wryly quipped, bringing a round of laughter from everyone present.