The Other Side of Invincible

At 24, fit and athletic, Vito Johnson of Garfield Ridge doesn’t look like a typical heart patient. But Johnson suffers from hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a condition that causes the heart muscle to become very thick. Because of the thickening, the heart has to work harder to pump blood and that can lead to irregular heart rhythms. It is a leading cause of sudden death in young athletes.


Johnson was nearly one of those victims. Last October, he was playing football with friends when he started feeling dizzy and nauseous. He asked a friend to drive him to the hospital. The friend bypassed the nearest hospital and drove Johnson straight to Mercy—a decision that may have saved his life.


At the emergency department, Johnson went into cardiac arrest and had no heartbeat for 37 minutes. But thanks to the team of Mercy providers, Johnson not only survived his cardiac arrest, but suffered no permanent damage. “I couldn’t be happier to be alive,” Johnson says. “The first thing I want to say to everyone at Mercy is, ‘thank you.’”


Johnson’s recovery can be credited to an exceptional effort by Mercy’s Emergency Department, cardiac team and Intensive Care Unit. “While Vito’s condition was extremely serious, a case like his is what we train and prepare for,” explains Helene Connolly, M.D., chair of the Department of Emergency Medicine. “Vito, and all patients at Mercy, are given evidence-based protocols, superior care, and a team of clinicians who communicate and work together for the best outcome.”


As soon as Vito’s heartbeat was restored, doctors began cooling his body temperature, a technique known as therapeutic hypo-thermia. “It slows the body’s metabolism and protects the brain,” explains Johnson’s cardiologist, Anil Ranginani, M.D. Doctors used intravenous fluids and ice to cool Johnson’s body temperature. He was then put into an induced coma and gradually warmed back up. “He was fortunate he came to Mercy because we have state-of-the-art care, and we have expert physicians who do whatever it takes to make a patient better,” Dr. Ranginani says.


Today, Johnson takes medication to help control irregular heart rhythms and Dr. Ranginani implanted a small defibrillator to monitor his heart rhythm. If the defibrill-ator, which is about the size of a name tag, detects a dangerous heart rhythm, it gives an electric shock to restore normal rhythm.


Dr. Ranginani says Johnson should be able to live a fairly normal life; he just needs to limit excessive exertion and avoid contact sports. For Johnson, that’s a small price to pay. “Before all this, I was a young guy and felt almost invincible,” he says. “Now, there are a few adjustments I have to make, but I’ll just take them as they come. It’s better than the alternative.”


For more information and to schedule an appointment for your heart screening, call 312.567.6088 or schedule an appointment.