Army Staff Sgt. Jim Valenti survived a tour of duty in Afghanistan and nearly two decades as a police officer, so it was a shock last fall when a swarm of yellow jackets nearly killed him.
That day, Jim’s heart stopped — cardiac arrest caused by anaphylactic shock — and he credits paramedics, his daughter for performing CPR, and the emergency, ICU, and cardiology teams at Methodist Mansfield Medical Center for saving his life.
“I have no words to express how thankful I am for the love and the care that they showed me,” Jim says. “I walked out of Methodist Mansfield 11 days after dying on my kitchen floor.”
Jim with his wife, Madonna (left), daughter Nicole and her son, Maddox
Jim was mowing the lawn on Sept. 30 when he ran over an underground wasp nest at his Mansfield home. He was stung repeatedly on the neck and ear and suffered a severe allergic reaction.
Fortunately, his wife and daughter were home when he went into cardiac arrest, a rare result of anaphylactic shock.
“I knew I was allergic, but in the past, my wife would give me some Benadryl. And I would just chill out and maybe swell up a bit,” Jim says. “This time, I could feel my body shutting down.
“I used one epi-pen, threw the other one to my wife, and I said, ‘Call 911, I’m dying.”
While his wife, Madonna, called for help, his adult daughter, Nicole, administered CPR until paramedics arrived. It’s fortunate that she did because her dad had stopped breathing, and his heart had stopped pumping.
“It only takes about five minutes of no blood flow to the brain to have irreversible brain damage,” says Babatunde Komolafe, MD, interventional cardiologist on the medical staff at Methodist Mansfield. “So immediate CPR is critical for good brain function.”
Jim wasn’t out of danger just yet, despite the efforts of Nicole and Mansfield Fire Department paramedics, who shocked him back to life and inserted a breathing tube on their way to Methodist Mansfield.
Next, he would need a team of physicians, including Dr. Komolafe, and a special nurse whose care Jim doesn’t remember but whom he will never forget.
Once at the hospital after the wasp attack, Jim was quickly stabilized, but he remained unconscious and in critical condition.
“They could not wake me up,” he says. “So they had to cool me down to protect my brain.”
For patients who suffer cardiac arrest, therapeutic hypothermia sometimes proves necessary. This treatment cools the body — either externally using ice packs and cooling pads or internally with IV fluids — giving patients a chance to recover without putting their brain function at risk.
“They cool you down to 35 or 36 degrees centigrade [95 degrees Fahrenheit] to reduce the body’s metabolic demands,” Dr. Komolafe says. “That allows the heart, the brain, and other organs to rest, and then they slowly warm you back up after 24 hours.”
POLICE HOLD VIGIL
While Jim recovered in the ICU, he was cared for by a team that included staff nurse Annie Caussey, RN. Her support was every bit as important to his wife as it was to Jim.
“Watching her take care of Jim, it was like she was taking care of her own father,” says Madonna, who got the reassurance she needed that Jim would pull through. “She has a gift.”
Jim never met Annie while in the ICU. But when he returned to meet her for the first time, he says, “It was as if she was family already.”
Annie wasn’t the only shoulder for the family to lean on. A steady stream of Jim’s colleagues from the Cedar Hill police visited his room. And before his release, officers and sheriff’s deputies from across the area held a prayer vigil that filled the parking lot at the hospital.
“The care I received and the way my family and work family were treated was top-notch,” Jim says. “It was way above and beyond my wildest imagination. I am forever grateful.”
He’s also grateful to have someone else to mow the lawn from now on, even though the wasp threat is long gone.
“I’m never cutting another blade of grass. I’ll tell you that,” he says.
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