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Nurse Has Unexpected Reunion With Fellow Nurse After Heart Attack

Nurse practitioner Alison Hoit says it’s not often she gets to hear her patients’ success stories after they leave her floor in the cardiac ICU. But after caring for a fellow Cleveland Clinic nurse who had a heart attack at work, Alison unexpectedly met this nurse again when her daughter, Maddie, was in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).

“I overheard my daughter’s nurse telling my mom she had been on my floor after having a heart attack. When I walked in the room, I realized it was Pam, the nurse I had cared for in the cardiac ICU,” says Alison, recalling having goosebumps when she made the connection it was NICU nurse Pam Kays.

Pam says, “When Ali realized it was me, the look on her face was priceless, her jaw dropped. She said, ‘You were my patient,’ and asked for a hug. It was surreal to have that connection.”

Oct. 2, 2023, is when Pam had her heart attack at 55 years old, and that day started like any other. It was a Monday, and she hadn’t experienced any symptoms over the carefree weekend that included a concert and long walk with her dogs. But she started feeling unwell at work as she was getting an update from the night shift nurses.

Nurse Pam in the hospital after a heart attack.
After experiencing her heart attack, Pam encourages others to remember the symptoms and get symptoms including chest pain checked out promptly. (Courtesy: Pam Kays)

“I was fanning myself because I suddenly got very hot. My jaw also started to tighten and hurt, and then I felt a heaviness in my chest. A couple minutes later, both my arms were tingling,” says Pam, who works in the NICU at Cleveland Clinic’s main campus.

After alerting fellow caregivers she thought she was having a heart attack, Pam was rushed to the emergency department. During an EKG, Pam says she passed out and went into cardiac arrest. CPR was administered three times, and a defibrillator was used to get her heart back into a normal rhythm. After her condition was stabilized, further testing revealed she had a severe heart attack called an ST-elevation myocardial infarction (STEMI), which happens when there’s a blockage in the heart’s biggest artery. This heart attack was even more concerning as it involved the left anterior descending artery which is often referred to as the “widowmaker.”

“Seconds count, and I likely would not be here today had I not been at work,” exclaims Pam, who recalls fellow nurses visiting her after her heart attack, including NICU nurse manager Mary Beth Sevastos, who Pam says made sure her family was taken care of while she was in the hospital.

Although she was in and out of consciousness, Pam says she recalls Alison caring for her in the cardiac ICU.

Maddie shortly after she was born.
When Alison had her baby, Maddie, she had to be taken to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). That’s where she reunited with nurse Pam. (Courtesy: Alison Hoit)

“Pam was wide awake and scared when I first saw her. I just told her, ‘Don’t worry. I’m going to help you. You’re not going to have any more pain.’ I then worked with the other nurses to sedate her more appropriately,” says Alison.

After a few days in the hospital, Pam began her recovery at home, and Alison didn’t expect to see her again once she left the cardiac ICU. They would be reunited in March 2024 after Maddie was born prematurely at 32 weeks due to Alison having low amniotic fluid during pregnancy, which could cause health problems in the baby or be a sign of an underlying condition. Pam started caring for Maddie after she was transported to main campus.

“Being so thankful for everything Alison did for me, I was glad to be paying it forward by caring for her daughter,” says Pam.

In the NICU, Maddie needed oxygen support and help feeding as she continued to grow. Pam treated her like one of her own, which put Alison’s mind at ease when she couldn't be there.

Nurse Pam taking care of Maddie in the NICU.
Pam formed a close bond with Maddie and Alison in the NICU following the unexpected reunion. (Courtesy: Cleveland Clinic)

“It was hard juggling hospital visits and being at home with my other two girls, so it meant a lot knowing Maddie was in good hands when I had to leave,” says Alison.

Alison recalls Pam going above and beyond to care for her daughter in the NICU – even helping her give Maddie a bath. “After her bath, we wrapped up her hair in a towel, and we kept calling it her spa day,” laughs Pam. After some time in the NICU, Maddie made enough progress to come home to her family. Alison now looks forward to watching her daughter reach new milestones as Pam continues to make progress after her heart attack.

“I graduated from cardiac rehab, and my energy has come back better than it was before,” says Pam, who has a long family history of heart issues. “My doctor, Jacqueline Tamis-Holland, is such a sweet, caring lady, so thank goodness she’s come into my life.”

Jacqueline Tamis-Holland, MD, is an interventional cardiologist at Cleveland Clinic and says they discovered Pam’s lipoprotein (a) levels were high, which researchers have found can increase a person’s risk of heart and blood vessel disease.

Maddie and family when she was released from NICU
Maddie with her family on the day she was released from the NICU. (Courtesy: Cleveland Clinic)

“High levels of lipoprotein (a) can be associated with an increased risk for heart attacks, and there are studies underway looking at different medications to treat this. However, we still don’t yet have an adequate medicine to effectively manage those levels,” says Dr. Tamis-Holland.

In the meantime, Pam continues to follow up with her care team and maintains her heart health through living a healthy lifestyle. She looks forward to taking advantage of this new lease on life and being able to create new memories with her family. Pam is thankful to all those who helped save her life and care for her following her heart attack.

“The emergency department crew that day was amazing, and Alison and I definitely have a respect for what the other one does because we recognize we're not experts in each other's specialties,” says Pam.

Pam with grandchild and Maddie with mom when she was released from NICU
Pam and her grandson celebrating his first birthday. (left) (Courtesy: Pam Kays) Alison kissing Maddie on the day she was discharged from the NICU. (right) (Courtesy: Cleveland Clinic)

Alison adds she appreciates the level of in-depth care Pam and the team provided to her daughter in the NICU. Alison says this experience has made her passion for nursing that much greater, and she plans to keep in touch with Pam and the other NICU nurses.

“Seeing the NICU world has been incredible. We really should be proud of everything these nurses do, and it’s comforting knowing they’re so experienced,” says Alison. “I never expected Pam to remember me after being intubated and sedated in the hospital. This has been such a humbling experience.”

Related Institutes: Heart, Vascular & Thoracic Institute (Miller Family), Ob/Gyn & Women's Health Institute, Cleveland Clinic Children's
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