Nurse helps man survive 'widow maker' workout
YORK, Maine -- Steve Swasey of York works out regularly, doesn't smoke or drink, and recently almost died of a heart attack.
The 51-year-old said he would not be alive today but for the quick reaction of a York Hospital nurse who happened to be standing next to him at CrossFit Harpoon in York when he experienced the type of heart attack commonly known as the "widow maker," he said.
"It's the type of heart attack that should have killed me," he said July 1.
Swasey learned his left anterior descending artery, the main vessel that feeds blood to the left ventricle of the heart, had been 99 percent blocked.
"It happens years in the making," Swasey said.
Yet before he dropped to the gym floor, Swasey experienced no warning signs, he said. He felt no tightness in his chest or pain in his left arm and experienced no angina, fatigue or nausea.
Six months prior he had felt a heart flutter. That was the extent of his symptoms, he said.
"If I was on my third cigarette or fourth beer, this would all make sense to me," he said. "I was in less than a 1 percent risk."
For the past 10 months, Swasey has been working out at CrossFit with registered nurse Rachael Carrier, 26. On June 12, both had come inside after trainer Justin Mahan had them warm up with a one-mile run. He told them to "grab a bar," Carrier said.
She did, but when she turned, she saw Swasey on the floor, experiencing what she first thought was a seizure. His pulse was low and then gone, she said.
As others called 911, Carrier started cardiopulmonary resuscitation.
"For me, I just did what I was trained to do," she said. "I've never seen it outside of work."
Carrier is the daughter of Brattleboro Police Department Det. Lt. Michael Carrier.
Swasey was taken by ambulance to the Intensive Care Unit of York Hospital. He remembers nothing of what happened that day, he said.
When he woke up and saw his sister, Deborah Lemeaux of Danvers, Mass., sitting next to him, he said, "I thought I was there for her."
His two daughters, Kayla Swasey, who attends West Point Military Academy, and Sierra Swasey, 16, a student at York High School, spent Father's Day at York Hospital.
On Monday, Swasey returns to work at ProEx Physical Therapy in Somersworth, where he is a clinical manager and co-owner.
He doesn't yet have a date when he can return to CrossFit, a gym that has a regimen he believes helped him survive.
"It's probably the most positive group of people," he said, comparing them to the military community he knew when he was in the Air Force from 1981 to 1985.
Trainers and members called after his heart attack and brought him meals, he said.
The motto of CrossFit is, "The stronger people are, the harder they are to kill," he said. "I rest my case."
Swasey and Carrier both said they are looking forward to returning to their former, regular relationship as working-out partners.
But Swasey doesn't underestimate the role she played that day, being in the right place, at the right time.
"It's just a really rare occasion that chose me," he said.
Susan Morse writes for Seacoastonline. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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