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Centra In The News

Hometown Heart Heroes: John Dawson's Story

Published on Monday August 14, 2023
John Dawson and his Centra Care Team

An active individual in his late fifties, John Dawson thought that becoming out of breath during walks with his wife, Jennifer, and their dogs at the Peaks of Otter was just a part of getting older. However, the realization that the cause of his shortness of breath was caused by something far more serious than aging came on October 15, 2022.

John awoke at 5am with a burning sensation in his chest and began sweating. Quickly waking up Jennifer and telling her how he was feeling, they decided immediately that he needed to go to the Emergency Department (ED). After driving ten minutes from their Bedford home, they arrived at the Centra Bedford Memorial Hospital (BMH) ED where he vaguely remembers walking inside and saying, “I think I’m having a heart attack.”

His next memory is having a nitroglycerin pill under his tongue and sitting up on the observation table and saying, “I’m feeling better,” until he suddenly fell backward on the exam room table. What happened next was far from a sign of feeling better–Jennifer, described how he began having convulsions and his heart completely stopped. The Bedford ED team immediately began administering CPR and attempting to resuscitate John.

As everything was transpiring, nurse Lindsey Burch led Jennifer out of the exam room and acted as a comforting presence. Later, Dr. Ryan McClellan approached Jennifer and she asked him if John was having a heart attack. He informed her he was in the middle of experiencing one and then offered to pray with her. She described how this, “touched my heart and soul. It was not just a generic prayer; he poured out from his heart to God. In that moment, I felt such calm, and to this day, it brings tears to my eyes.”

After stabilizing John, his care team knew he would need to be medevacked to Centra Lynchburg General Hospital (LGH) for further care. After being transported by Centra One pilot, Sam Brian, Dr. Kenneth Saum performed open heart surgery on John.

One of John’s next memories is from when he awoke at 6:45 a.m. not realizing that almost 24 hours had passed since he first began experiencing symptoms of the heart attack at his home in Bedford. He explained that he remembered almost nothing from the last day and what had happened to him.

As soon as he was able to move from a bed to an upright chair, John opted to take laps around the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit, taking these walks 4-5 times per day. Motivated to get back to “normal” as soon as possible, John only spent four weeks in rehab due to the “can-do” attitude that he took towards his exercises and therapy to expedite his recovery.

From his initial team at Bedford and Centra One to Dr. Saum and the team at LGH and Dr. Jessica Jara who provided excellent follow-up care in the months of recovery that followed, John described how his entire care experience at Centra was, “amazing.” He is especially grateful for his Bedford team who worked so hard to save his life when his heart stopped and for how Patient Care Tech, Emma Board, went above and beyond to provide excellent care to him during his time on the Cardiac Intermediate Care Unit.

Now, almost one year after experiencing a heart attack, the longtime resident of central Virginia says he still loves living in Bedford and has added being close to BMH as one more reason why! When he’s not busy with his work for the federal government or attending church at Sedalia Baptist, he said his favorite thing to do is spend time with Jennifer, his wife and best friend of 24 years.

While his heart attack has not changed John’s desire to live his life with a can-do attitude, he did explain he wishes had done more to understand his risk factors before the heart attack occurred. With a family history of heart disease, he wishes he had taken preventative measures such as modifying the foods he was consuming and monitoring his risk with a care team before a heart attack could have occurred.

His short yet lifesaving message to others now? Preventative care is so important!