Time is of the essence when it comes to saving the life of a heart attack victim. No one knows that better than local firefighter/paramedic Bruce Moore. Not only has Moore assisted Fallbrook area residents with emergencies for 20 years through his work with North County Fire, but experienced the scenario personally when he suffered a massive heart attack seven months ago.
“This was definitely an eye-opener for me,” said Moore.
Coworker John Buchanan said, “[The heart attack] was due to a blockage in the left interior descending artery of his heart, which covers two-thirds of the heart’s function. It’s what is referred to as ‘the widowmaker’ due to the patient’s chance of survival if a problem occurs.”
On Oct. 10, 2013, the 46-year-old father of two special needs children (ages five and six), had gotten off his shift at 8 a.m. in Fallbrook and driven to his home in Wildomar.
“I felt great,” said Moore. “When I got home, the kids were in school and I invited my wife to go to the gym with me, but she wasn’t feeling too well, so I went by myself. It’s only a mile away.”
Moore, well known by his coworkers to do “extreme” workouts (well exceeding the level of fitness required by his job), said he just did a “regular” amount of exercise that day.
“I ran three miles on the treadmill and just did an average upper-body workout,” he explained. “At the end of my workout, I started feeling nauseous; I didn’t really feel out of the norm, but I hadn’t worked out as hard as I do most of the time. However, I decided to go on home.”
Moore said he wasn’t having any chest pain at the time and proceeded to walk outside and get in his car.
“I started feeling more nauseous and thought I was going to throw up,” he said, adding that he sat in his car and drank water at that point. “All of a sudden it went away.” Moore proceeded to drive his car towards home when 200 yards down the street, things changed.
“I started feeling pain in the right side of my chest, so I began rotating my arm to see if it would relieve it,” he said. “I got to a stoplight and all of a sudden I felt like I had been punched in the chest; I started having trouble breathing.”
When the light turned green, Moore said he was concerned about holding up traffic and glanced in his rearview mirror to gauge how many vehicles were behind him.
“I looked in the mirror and saw the sickest person I’ve ever seen in my life as a medic; the face of the person was ashen gray; then I realized that person was me,” said Moore. He then began sweating profusely, but was still not convinced he was having a cardiac event because he wasn’t experiencing any tingling or numbness in his arms or hands, he said.
“I continued to drive myself home (three-quarters of a mile),” he explained. “Luckily the garage door was open and my wife was visible. I got out of the car and said ‘Honey call 9-1-1, I don’t feel so good.” Moore took about 10 steps into his home when his vision failed and he fell face-first onto the floor.
“According to my wife, I wasn’t breathing, didn’t have a pulse and turned blue,” he said. “She called 9-1-1 on our house phone and then called our neighbors on her cell.”
Moore said he was unconscious for “about five minutes” and when he woke up “my neighbors were trying to log-roll me over.”
“I was so weak, but being a paramedic and knowing I was having trouble breathing, I told them to keep me on my side,” he said.
Cal Fire is the contracted paramedic service in Wildomar that responded to the emergency.
“When the paramedics came in, they immediately put me on a 12-lead EKG machine; I could see what my heart was doing and since I work with those all the time, I saw I was having a massive heart attack,” he said.
The captain with Cal Fire that was coordinating Moore’s transport via remote was Ty Davis. “Davis is a 16-year medic and he made the call; he told them to take me to Loma Linda in Murrieta.”
The reason Moore was taken to Loma Linda was because it is currently the only facility in that Southern Riverside county region with a designated cardiovascular catheterization laboratory (also known as a ‘cath lab’ or STEMI receiving center).
Moore’s life was saved because in less than an hour from the time of his heart attack, two stents were placed at different positions in the blocked artery, restoring blood flow circulation to his heart.
“I was in the hospital for three days – one day in ICU and two in a regular room,” said Moore. Doctors told Moore his condition was genetically predisposed, as opposed to other causes that contribute to cardiovascular disease.
“I will never be able to work out again at a high (extreme) level again or do the power-lifting I was doing,” said Moore. “But fortunately, I can still function at a level above what is required for my job.”
After finishing 72 sessions of cardiac rehabilitation last week, Moore, an overall 25-year veteran of fire service, said he hopes to return to work at North County Fire in early June.
“It looks about 90 percent sure right now, but I do have one more test to go through,” he said.
On May 7, Moore made a trip to the Pala Mesa station for two purposes – one because he agreed to be filmed for a public service announcement for Loma Linda’s STEMI center which will air on television – and the other to visit with his coworkers who were part of his extensive firefighter family support network during his illness.
“When we have a firefighter go down, we make sure they are never alone,” explained Buchanan, referencing the Fallbrook Firefighters Association and in this case, the chiefs and administrative staff as well. “We had two people with him at all times – day and night – in four-hour shifts. When he returned home from the hospital, we provided dinners for 30 days for the family. It’s important to us to make sure the family’s needs are taken care of.” That not only includes food, but also yard work and other chores.
“It’s pretty overwhelming to have that type of support,” said Moore. “It’s really nice not to have to worry about dinner too!”
While Moore’s incident took place in Wildomar, his North County Fire team serves Fallbrook and Bonsall area citizens.
“Here, we have these types of cardiac patients at least twice per week on an average,” said Buchanan. “When we have cardiac cases like this, we transport them to our two closest STEMI (ST Elevation Myocardial Infarction) centers in North San Diego County – at Palomar Health (Hospital) and Tri-City Hospital.”
Buchanan said both facilities are equipped to handle these emergencies in the same manner Loma Linda did.
“It was a perfect scenario for success,” he said.