Boris Guillome will probably never think of Presidents Day the same again. On that holiday, which fell on Feb. 18 this year, Guillome went to the South Napa Century theater to see a movie. Instead, he ended up starring in his own real-life drama.
Guillome, 45, explained that he’d sat down in his seat during the previews for the film “Alita: Battle Angel” when he felt a tightness in his chest.
“The pain was like almost like someone was pushing on me,” he said.
“I didn’t want to overreact,” said Guillome. But he had a strong feeling “that deep inside something was wrong. I had the thought of ‘get out.’”
He staggered to the lobby where a maintenance custodian from the theater helped him to a bench.
“From that point on, I blacked out,” he said.
Serendipitously, Sean Reiswig, age 42, had decided at the last minute to take his family to the movies that day. While giving their tickets to the attendant, he saw Guillome in distress.
Reiswig’s own father had died from a heart attack exactly two weeks earlier. He knew the symptoms — and most importantly — how he could help. While the theater’s maintenance custodian called 911, Reiswig checked Guillome for breathing, rolled him on to his back and began CPR.
“His lips were getting a little blue,” Reiswig recalled. With his brother-in-law keeping time with the beat of the song “Stayin’ Alive,” Reiswig continued chest compressions.
“I’ve never done CPR on somebody,” he admitted, but he didn’t hesitate. “I’m not the type that will walk away from somebody if they are in need of help.”
Reiswig, who works in construction, had been re-trained in CPR about 11 months ago and he remembered the new hands-only CPR procedure. “The whole time I was doing it I was hoping I was doing it correctly,” he said.
Napa City Fire Department paramedics arrived minutes later.
They quickly resuscitated Guillome by shocking his heart with an Automated External Defibrillator (AED) and conducting an ECG. The printout from the machine shows his heart restarted at 1:52 p.m.
At that point, “My nerves were shot,” said Reiswig. “I walked over to get a beer.”
As the paramedics were taking Guillome out of the theater, one paramedic told Reiswig, “You probably saved this guy’s life.”
“It was surreal. Things aligned that day,” said Reiswig.
Forty-eight minutes after he arrived at Queen of the Valley Medical Center—and 90 minutes after he collapsed — St. Joseph Health Medical Group cardiologist Andrew Wong, M.D., had performed an emergency angiogram, placed a stent and stabilized Guillome.
A main artery to his heart had been 100 percent blocked, Guillome was told. In such a case, the heart can stop very fast — which is why this type of heart attack is sometimes called a “widowmaker.”
According to a news release from the Queen, the hospital is a designated STEMI-receiving center. STEMI stands for ST Elevation Myocardial Infarction, a severe heart attack caused by clotting in one or more arteries
The designation means the Queen meets and exceeds the national standard of 90 minutes for “door to balloon time” or the time a patient arrives in the emergency department to the time the stent is placed to open the clogged artery.
“That 90-minute window is critically important,” said Dr. Wong. “The faster a physician can restore vital blood flow, the less likelihood there is of long-term damage to the heart muscle. The patient has the best chance of a full recovery and optimal outcomes when we beat the clock.”
Earlier this year, the Queen’s cardiac team was also recognized with the Blue Cross Blue Shield Blue Distinction Center for Cardiac Care for delivering safe and effective cardiac care, focusing on the procedure Guillome had—an angioplasty with stent—as well as cardiac valve surgery, coronary artery bypass graft, said the release.
Guillome certainty doesn’t sound like someone who is at risk for cardiac arrest. He doesn’t smoke. He barely drinks. “I don’t do fast food. I work out five days a week,” he said. He was at the gym the morning of his cardiac arrest.
However, in the U.S., one in four Americans die of heart disease every year, statistics show. In Napa County, it is the second leading cause of death.
“I’m lucky,” Guillome said. “My chance of survival was literally like less than 10 percent.”
Guillome said that before his cardiac arrest, he had been feeling some chest pain. He saw a doctor who thought his cholesterol was slightly elevated but Guillome had no idea he had a blocked artery. He wishes the doctor had given him a stress test, he said, adding that that might have helped identify his heart disease.
“If you feel any change in your body you should definitely acknowledge it,” said Guillome. “Make sure you get yourself checked,” he said. Be aware of cardiovascular disease. “It can happen to anyone.”
“I’m just another guy that didn’t have any preconditions yet I dropped dead,” he said.
Guillome is seeing a new doctor, and recently had his three-month check-up after his cardiac arrest. He also goes to cardiac rehab three times a week.
“I do have a life-threatening condition,” he said. “I will always be at a higher risk of having something like this happening again.” He takes medication and wears a necklace that holds a nitroglycerin pill in it.
“I know my life is never going to be the same,” said Guillome. Today, “I am a lot more appreciative of just simple pleasures. It puts things into perspective.”
A few weeks after his cardiac arrest, Reiswig and Guillome met again, this time under much better circumstances.
“He was very thankful,” said Reiswig. “Boris said, ‘You realize you’re family now.’”
“I was very touched by what he did,” said Guillome. “He had no hesitation. He was right there and able to assist me until the paramedics arrived.”
The two men remain in contact. “We text each other once a week and just check in,” said Reiswig.
“I have a new friend for life,” said Guillome.
“I wouldn’t hesitate to do it again,” said Reiswig.