Vim & Vigor - Winter 2017 - University of Virginia - 54

MIRACLE
MOUNTAIN
ON
THE

Racing against time, a man's family-
and dedicated professionals-pull him
back from the brink BY KELLY CASEY

T

he morning of Sept. 7, 2016,
William Rittelmeyer, 59,
woke up at Big Meadows
Campground in Virginia's
Shenandoah National Park. He was
feeling tired but attributed that to
the previous day's hike on Old Rag
Mountain. He had a cup of coffee as
his wife cooked up pancakes. His two
grown children were nearby.
Without warning, Rittelmeyer suddenly lost consciousness. His heart had
stopped beating (cardiac arrest), triggered by a sudden blockage of a major
heart artery.
What happened over the next
two hours can best be described
as miraculous.
"When a cardiac arrest occurs outside
of a hospital, most patients won't survive
it. If a heart attack and a cardiac arrest
happens to occur in a campground on
top of a mountain, well, the odds are
strongly against survival," says Lawrence
Gimple, MD.
As a veteran cardiologist and director
of Clinical Cardiology at the UVA Heart
and Vascular Center, Gimple has seen
many people survive serious cardiac
emergencies. But this particular story
leaves him awestruck-as Rittelmeyer
not only survived but also came through
unscathed. Here's how.

54

W IN TER 2 0 1 7

Incredible Team Effort

When her father collapsed, Sara
Rittelmeyer screamed for her brother,
Billy, for help. Noticing his father had
no pulse, Billy immediately started to
do chest compressions. (By chance,
Billy had recently been trained in CPR
at work.) No cellular service was available, so Sara, a three-time marathon
runner, said, "I'm going to run for help.
My brother just said, 'Run fast.'" Their
mother sat nearby and prayed.
"My brother is the hero of this story,"
Sara says. "He knew exactly what to do.
I was freaking out, so running to the
park rangers' station helped me channel
my energy."
When she got to the National Park
Service office about a quarter-mile away,
Sara discovered that the park rangers were equipped with an AED (automated external defibrillator). Using the
device, the rangers quickly restored
Rittelmeyer's heart rhythm. They also
alerted the UVA Health System Pegasus
emergency crew, which knew exactly
how to land a helicopter on a mountaintop. Even with his heartbeat restored,
Rittelmeyer still had a complete blockage
in a major heart artery.
"Mr. Rittelmeyer's family had done all
of the right things during this medical
emergency with courage and fortitude,"

Gimple says. "Now was the time for the
University of Virginia Health System
to do what we do every day. We put
our expertise, training and practice
into action."
During Rittelmeyer's 13-minute
helicopter ride to Charlottesville, an
emergency team at UVA prepared for
his arrival. From the time Rittelmeyer
landed on the rooftop of UVA Medical
Center to the time his heart artery was
opened, only 29 minutes had elapsed
(90 minutes is the national standard).
"When my team did rounds later that
morning in the Cardiac Care Unit, Mr.
Rittelmeyer was waving and smiling to
everyone. His heart muscle was basically
normal," Gimple says.

Moment of Realization

The full impact of this event came to
Gimple after having a conversation that
morning with Rittelmeyer's brother,
an interventional cardiologist whom
Gimple knows as a longtime colleague.
"When I called to tell Dr. Rittelmeyer
(then at Winchester Medical Center)



Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Vim & Vigor - Winter 2017 - University of Virginia

Contents
Vim & Vigor - Winter 2017 - University of Virginia - Cover1
Vim & Vigor - Winter 2017 - University of Virginia - Cover2
Vim & Vigor - Winter 2017 - University of Virginia - Contents
Vim & Vigor - Winter 2017 - University of Virginia - 2
Vim & Vigor - Winter 2017 - University of Virginia - 3
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Vim & Vigor - Winter 2017 - University of Virginia - Cover3
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