Published on November 23, 2022

Montage Medical Group cardiologist saves two lives while running Monterey Bay Half Marathon

Steven Lome, MMG

The race was off to a beautiful start. As Dr. Lome reached mile 3, he noticed a man collapse about 30 feet in front of him. The runner was unconscious, not breathing, and did not have a pulse. He was under cardiac arrest.

According to Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine, the chances of having a cardiac arrest at a marathon is around 1 in 200,000. And, the survival rate of cardiac arrest outside of hospital walls is 5 percent. So, when two runners have their heart stop in a race of 6,000 people and survive, it is a miracle in more ways than one. To add to that miracle, a cardiologist running in the same race was in the right place, at the right time, and was able to perform CPR and save both lives.

Monterey Bay Half Marathon
Photo courtesy of Andrew Tronick

A beautiful day

It was a perfect day for running in Monterey on November 13, 2022, for the Monterey Bay Half Marathon. Dr. Steven Lome, a cardiologist with Montage Medical Group, had run many races in his lifetime. His daily work focuses mostly on general cardiology and lifestyle medicine for those with high risk factors for heart disease. He likes to incorporate what he teaches his patients into his personal regime and with his family. On this crisp, sunny morning he was running the race with his two teenage children, both cross country runners at Carmel schools.

Mile 3

As Dr. Lome reached mile 3, he noticed a man collapse about 30 feet in front of him. He stopped to help. The runner was unconscious, not breathing, and did not have a pulse. He would later find that this man was Greg Gonzales, a 67 year-old superior court judge who lives in Vancouver, Washington. Dr. Lome immediately started CPR. Two other medical providers nearby, including a neurosurgeon from out of town, stopped to help and they took turns. He knew an ambulance was on the way and this life-saving measure would help keep the blood flowing through Gonzales’ body and to his brain while they waited for help. After performing CPR for about 5 minutes, Gonzales was given a life-saving shock from an ambulance’s automated external defibrillator (AED), and then more chest compressions were given until he woke with confusion a few minutes later. Gonzales was taken by ambulance to Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula where he was evaluated and treated.

The finish line

Dr. Lome

Dr. Lome, frazzled and a little tired, decided to continue the race, hoping to still catch up to his two children. He was thrilled to cross the finish line and even threw his hands up in the air in celebration. Then, he noticed another runner was down. People were screaming for help – a man was on the ground, unconscious, not breathing, and had no pulse. The runner, a 56 year-old man from Marin County, California, was Michael Heilemann. Dr. Lome started providing CPR to Heilemann while a nearby AED was brought with the help of volunteer medical providers at the Community Hospital medical tent. A well-trained Emergency department tech, Elizabeth Morin, had the AED ready and on Heilemann in a matter of seconds. He was shocked in less than two minutes after going into cardiac arrest. He woke up confused, and then immediately turned off his Strava timer on his watch, a running app that tracks fitness mileage and time. He wanted to record his race finish time and had no idea of the seriousness of what had just happened to him. Dr. Lome was helped by an array of medical professionals, under the direction of Dr. John Ellison, Community Hospital emergency physician and medical director for the Monterey Bay Half Marathon, whose team provided supportive care and made way for the ambulance, as well as follow-up care at the hospital.

Dr. Lome visited the patients the next day at Community Hospital and was relieved to see them both recovering well. Both had received stents for their blocked arteries and were expected to make full recoveries.

Lessons learned

Dr. Lome stresses the importance of our community knowing how to perform CPR and be comfortable using an AED. Anyone can save a life with this knowledge. But, he would rather have it not come to that. Nutrition and exercise are a big part of managing cardiac health. 80 percent of one’s heart health is diet, and 20 percent is exercise. Making simple lifestyle adjustments can help to greatly reduce the risk of cardiac failure. The American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association recommend a plant based or “pro-vegetarian” diet, or a Mediterranean diet, but note that while Mediterranean diets have not been proven to prevent heart disease, they have been known to reduce stroke risk.

Dr. Lome himself lost 100 pounds starting in 2014 when he noticed he wasn’t sleeping well and had back pain. He knew his heart would be suffering too. Switching to a plant-based diet and adding exercise, including running, helped him get back on track. He has since done 10 full marathons and 30-40 half marathons. He recommends for those worried about their heart health, especially before doing strenuous exercise and those with a family history of heart disease, talk to a doctor who can perform a series of tests to see if there is anything of concern.

Gonzales now knows to never ignore the warning signs. He grew comfortable in knowing he was working out regularly and doing “the right thing.” He lived a very healthy lifestyle, ate a plant-based diet, and exercised regularly. But, he did have a family history of heart disease. When strange pains came and went, he attributed it to exercise pains or that it wasn’t anything serious. Now he’s taking a different approach to life.

Gonzales is grateful for his second chance at life. In speaking about his hospital experience, he stated he was treated like a king. He plans to come back to his favorite half marathon run next year if his doctors clear him.

The staff at the hospital were fantastic, they assured me that I would be ok. They treated me with so much great energy, passion, and compassion. I knew I was going to survive. I knew I was going to come back stronger. It was a magical moment for me. It’s a miracle.

Greg Gonzales, patient of Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula

Heilemann, did not have any warning signs. But, he did know he had a strong family history of heart disease. In fact, his dad had a cardiac arrest at a running event when he was his age, 67, and he’s had several family members who have passed due to heart failure. While Heilemann touts that he exercises regularly and eats healthy, he now knows that family history plays a large part in his health. He also plans to run the event next year, but states, “I am pretty slow and expect to take it even easier next year.”

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