computer to check his email and quite unexpectedly died.
Tom and his wife Cheryl had just returned from a trip to Minnetonka
where they were helping their youngest daughter, Lisa, move into a new
apartment. After dinner, the two made the trek back to Granite Falls,
and it was between 9:00 or 10:00 p.m. when it happened.
“Tom had suffered, I didn’t know it at the time, Sudden Cardiac Arrest
(SCA),” said Cheryl. “He tipped over onto the book case next to the
computer and stopped breathing. Luckily both of us were downstairs and
I was about five feet away. I thought he was faking it initially. I
said: Oh, come on, you’re not that tired. Wake up. But he truly wasn’t
chuckle that thinly veils the cauldron of emotion that still boils up
at the thought of the evening––and it seems amazing that she’s able to
speak of it at all. Then again, the near-widow proved to be a rock
throughout the ordeal, taking it upon herself to administer CPR and
later holding it together when telling doctors it was time to ‘pull
in the chair, bringing him to the floor and beginning chest
compressions while simultaneously fishing her cell phone out of her
pocket to dial 9-11.
(Automated External Defibrillator), which they used to begin shocking
him. The ambulance arrived in less than three minutes––and that’s the
miracle of living in a good little town, with a good police and
ambulance. But thank heavens the police had an AED in that car because
the faster he started breathing and his heart beating again, the
better the outcome you’re going to get.”
his heart, Tom’s body temperature was reduced to induce hypothermia,
thereby slowing the system down so the brain is kept from swelling and
oxygen deprivation. A helicopter dispatched from Redwood Falls then
airlifted him to St. Cloud Hospital’s cardiac unit.
with the speed in which he woke up, but after 24, 48, 72 hours and so
on, he remained unconscious.
he couldn’t get to breathing on his own. There was also concern of
brain stem damage and that he wouldn’t have his autonomic system
working,” recalled Cheryl. “So after four days they told me that he
probably wasn’t going to recover. Maybe he could be on a ventilator,
receive kidney dialysis and be a vegetable––if we wished to continue
“I said, well, you know, he’s not a man that ever went to the doctor.
He wouldn’t want that, let’s not do this any more.”
Moved to palliative care, Tom was taken off life support and
administered drugs meant to stave off any potential suffering. It was
to be only a matter of time, the doctors told Cheryl. He wouldn’t be
able to breathe on his own.
able to breathe,” said Cheryl. “And they said, well we’re no longer
doing kidney dialysis and his kidney’s aren’t functioning. THAT will
turned to days, rolled on.
we couldn’t get him to do it and show the doctors,” recalled Cheryl.
“Nine days out, Tom seemed to be looking at us, but his eyes didn’t
look like they were focused and there was all sorts of this gunky
stuff in them. So I told the doctor that and he said: well, let me go
look. And he shined a light in and said his pupils are non reactive,
of 16 friends from the “6:00 a.m. Swimmers” (a senior swimming group
of the Kilowatt Community Center) who had traveled to be present with
the McGarthwaite family as a surprise. Together they made their way to
the hospital lounge and prayed.
I had asked one of the girls to take pictures because I knew this was
the end of mine and Tom’s time together––the doctors told me he
probably couldn’t live another day––but my son said, Mom, I can’t do
this anymore. Dad talked.” “I said, John!”
“He said, no, the nurse asked: could I reposition this pillow on your
head? And dad hollered at her, no!”
“And then he started to wake up. And under his breath, really soft, he
went, CChherryylll… And that was it. I went to go get the doctors
and nurses and I said we’re not doing this anymore. And then it just
got better and better and better.”
her side and casts her gaze on her husband.
“To me,” he says with a subtle smirk. “I just woke up. It was like
nine days of nothing.”
supposed to be deceased, or at the very least a vegetable. As it is,
he has gained back almost the entirety of his former function––his
balance is a little off and he still lacks energy and endurance, but
he is expected to continue to recover significantly for a period of
six months to a year.
her 22 years,” Cheryl said. “It was miracle, after miracle, after
determined he was well enough to go home. He would be able to receive
all therapies needed through the Granite Falls Hospital and its Home
per day and now comes equipped with a pace-maker––as it was determined
that the cause of the initial attack was an irregular heartbeat. He is
also considering getting back into driver’s education, which he taught
prior to the event. But in the meantime he has become a popular
speaker with the Sudden Cardiac Arrest support groups and forums––
where he has been joined by St. Cloud Electrophysiologist Dr. Keith
Lurie in campaigning medical practitioners to allot more time for
patients who have undergone hypothermia to wake up taking them off
ever, even if Cheryl “pulled the plug on me,” as McGarthwaite likes to
said Cheryl of Tom, who seems to be finding the most humor in the
to live for and are looking forward to getting the most out of their
new lease on life together.
and when things happen but we still need to be in the here and now and
struggle to stay there,” said Cheryl. “I truly treasure not being a
widow and having Tom in my life.”
succumbed to Sudden Cardiac Arrest.
A word from Ambulance Director Gene Hughes
Editor’s note: Without the quick action of the Granite Falls police and ambulance, Tom McGarthwaite likely would not have had an outcome as positive as the end result. Asked to provide a little insight into the importance of having a police officers equipped with Automated External Defibrillators, Ambulance Director Gene Hughes said this:
This was the first event in twelve years where police officers used their defibrillator to successfully shock a patient back to life. The dedication and quick thinking these officers exhibited is rare. All the officers, of the city and county, are often the first on scene and help the ambulance crew provide care. This time they really made the difference by effectively using the equipment they carry to save a life. “I feel these officers are real heroes”. They used their skills and judgment to use their defibrillator in the minute before we arrived to do the right thing. No one could have done better. After the event I found that the patches they used were their only patches. They can’t or haven’t budgeted for extra patches and batteries for the defibrillators they carry at this time. I hope the plan for the future includes extra funds for these heroes among us. We need to keep their equipment ready at all times. These people really make a difference in our communities. The community of Granite Falls is extremely fortunate to have police officers trained to provide first aid, CPR and defibrillation, but without these supplies they are unable to provide the best care possible.