At the Speed of Life

Steven Eichel

Though his memory of what happened is spotty, Steven Eichel will always remember October 4, 2015. That was the day the 53-year-old attorney collapsed at the Hicksville Long Island Rail Road station. 

En route to his home in Manhattan after visiting his mother, Mr. Eichel thinks he bought a ticket and was headed to the second-floor platform when his heart suddenly stopped beating. 

Others at the station saw Mr. Eichel collapse on the escalator and rushed to his side. He had stopped breathing. A bystander called 911 and began cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). Ambulance crews arrived and tried to revive him with an automated external defibrillator. On the fourth attempt, they finally heard his heartbeat. 

Mr. Eichel was rushed to Nassau University Medical Center, where he was resuscitated but remained in a coma. Police notified his wife, Debbie, who immediately headed to the medical center.

His Next Stop

Alan Hartman, MD, Northwell Health’s senior vice president and executive director of cardiothoracic services, was exiting the operating room at North Shore University Hospital (NSUH) when his former mentor at NYU Langone Medical Center texted him. A close friend of the Eichels, the Langone physician heard from Ms. Eichel because she hoped that her husband could be transferred to a Manhattan hospital. But ambulance transfer wasn’t possible and few Manhattan facilities can accept patients via helicopter because of limited landing space. 

Northwell Health’s SkyHealth emergency helicopter service made it possible to transfer Mr. Eichel from the medical center to NSUH — a tertiary and quaternary care center capable of performing complex, specialized cardiovascular care. SkyHealth not only speeds critically ill or injured individuals to advanced care, it's also outfitted withthe same tupes of lifesaving equipment found in emergency departments and intensive care units.

Dr. Hartman called Ms. Eichel and the team at the medical center, who had already initiated hypothermia protocol. The crucial first step to treatment, the procedure lowers body temperature to slow metabolism and prevent damage to the brain and vital organs, according to the Sudden Cardiac Arrest Foundation. Dr. Hartman and the medical center’s emergency medicine physicians agreed that Mr. Eichel was stable enough for SkyHealth transfer to NSUH. 

“Even though we were transporting Mr. Eichel a short distance, it was a complex transfer,” Dr. Hartman said. “However, I had tremendous confidence in SkyHealth and our flight paramedics’ and nurses’ ability to manage his care.”

Making Strides Toward Recovery

The NSUH Cardiothoracic Intensive Care Unit (CICU) admitted Mr. Eichel the next day. Dr. Hartman and Hugh Cassiere, MD, director of the CICU, evaluated him. They determined that an underlying virus was likely the cause of his sudden cardiac arrest and surgery or heart/lung bypass weren’t necessary.

After six days of intensive care, Mr. Eichel awoke. Though he has no memory of the incident, his neurological functioning is otherwise unaffected. An angiogram has also revealed that the coronary arteries in his heart are healthy. Aside from medication, Mr. Eichel needed only an automatic internal defibrillator implanted to regulate his heart rhythm.

On October 19, Mr. Eichel returned home to Ms. Eichel and their two children, Justin, 13, and Alexis, 11. He has since resumed his busy law practice and walks one mile every day in addition to his commute. He credits his recovery to the NSUH team and, above all, his wife, who made transfer possible.

“I feel like I’m a miracle case,” Mr. Eichel said. “I’m lucky that everything lined up the way it did and that I was able to get to Dr. Hartman. NSUH brought me out of a coma and made me well again. I’m very thankful.”

Find more news about health, wellness, medical discoveries and community programs from LIJ Medical Center and North Shore University Hospital in Look North.

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