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Astronaut's Heart Stopping Adventure

An Astronaut's Heart Stopping Adventure

Mike Coates

Michael Coates flew dozens of missions as a fighter pilot in Vietnam, and three trips into outer space, but never came as close to death as he did late one night in 2004.

Shortly after midnight, November 23, 2004, Coates decided his aching left arm and heavy perspiration might be signs of a heart attack. He and his wife left their Douglas County home and headed for Sky Ridge Medical Center.

A major blockage in his right coronary artery was stopping critical blood flow and causing his heart to beat irregularly.

The Emergency Department team at Sky Ridge used defibrillators to bring Coates, literally, back to life. When his heart stopped a second time, they defibrillated him again, and again. Altogether, Coates says, "I flat-lined eight times." And the Emergency Department team, refusing to give up, kept bringing him back to life.

"The old record for using those (defibrillator) paddles at Sky Ridge was three," says Coates. "I set the new record at 16."

The Cath Lab team installed a stent to re-open Coates' blocked artery. They then installed a temporary inter-aortic balloon pump, a tiny machine that helps the heart pump blood. This stopped his heart attack and saved his life.

"I feel terrific. My heart looks as strong as it's been in years."

Looking back on his experience, Coates is not only eternally grateful for heroic efforts to save his life, he's impressed with how the staff treated his family. "Obviously they cared a lot," says the retired astronaut. "You want your family, at the most difficult times of your life, to get the support they need - and they sure got it from Sky Ridge."

These days, Coates says, "I feel terrific. My heart looks as strong as it's been in years. There may be no lasting damage at all."

Quick response time prevented arterial damage, and the careful, dedicated work in rehabilitation has helped him recover.

Coates, who flew in the Discovery space shuttle on three different missions – deploying satellites, "flipping the thing around" to test maneuverability, and one time gliding at 17,000 miles an hour through the Southern Lights – acknowledges he's had a wonderful life.

"I'm a pretty lucky guy," he says, "with the experiences I've had and the family I've got. Fortunately, the people at Sky Ridge kept it going."