An unexpected rescue

An unexpected rescue

Jacksonville patrolman receives lifesaving care at Shands Jacksonville

By Mary Kelli Palka

Michael Pickering

One moment, Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office patrolman Michael Pickering was in pursuit of a suspect. A few minutes later, he was in the back of an ambulance on his way to Shands Jacksonville.

It was Jan. 20 when Pickering, 50, felt a pain in the center of his chest during a chase and called for paramedics. On the stretcher, he felt tired. He wanted to close his eyes — just for a minute. “Clear! Hit him again,” a rescue worker yelled.

In the time between feeling tired and hearing those words, Pickering was going into cardiac sudden death. As he would later find out, his heart was beating irregularly and then stopped beating effectively.

After paramedics resuscitated him, Pickering called his wife, a communications director at the Clay County Sheriff’s Office. They had an agreement. If one of them got hurt and was able, he or she needed to call the other person.

“He was still on his cell phone when he was wheeled into the emergency department. He was taken for tests that showed he was in the process of having a heart attack,” said Theodore Bass, M.D., chief of the division of cardiology at the  College of Medicine-Jacksonville and medical director of the Shands Jacksonville Cardiovascular Center.

Pickering didn’t smoke, wasn’t a drinker and was in good shape. He’d passed his annual exam just a few months earlier.

Then in January, Pickering was working an assignment on Jacksonville’s Northside when another officer asked for backup. Pickering responded. He was chasing a shoplifting suspect into a wooded area when he started to feel the pain in his chest.

“I thought for sure rescue was going to get there, check me out and say it was nothing,” he said.

But it was something. Pickering had a heart attack in the bottom wall of his heart. Through a radial artery entry in his right wrist, doctors were able to thread catheters in to take pictures, open the completely blocked right coronary vessel and put in a stent, Bass said.

“His symptoms got better,” Bass said. “We were fortunately able to significantly limit the size of his heart attack.”

At Shands Jacksonville, doctors routinely use the radial approach instead of the traditional femoral approach, which goes through an artery in the groin. Bass said the radial approach is preferred because there aren’t as many bleeding complications.

Pickering was so happy with his care that when workers’ compensation officials asked him to switch to a different doctor at a different hospital, he declined.

“Dr. Bass, I love that guy,” Pickering said. “He puts it in layman’s terms.”

It isn’t clear what caused Pickering’s heart problems. Middle-aged men in the United States often have risk factors because of their diet and lifestyle. But for Pickering, it was his history that likely played a bigger role. His parents both died of heart complications.

Bass stressed people should be careful to control risk factors such as hypertension, diabetes, high cholesterol and stress and stay away from tobacco.

Today, Pickering is done with cardiac rehabilitation. He was back at work on April 12.

And then eight days later — three months to the day of his heart attack — the father of three had another important job. He gave his daughter Kerri away at her wedding. It was a day he told himself he’d never miss. And he didn’t.