Jim Thorpe man overcomes many obstacles as he recovers from cardiac arrest
Ray Bradley and his wife, Colleen, sit in their living room. Today marks the one-year anniversary of when Ray nearly died while out riding his bike and was saved by his wife and a family friend. BOB FORD/TIMES NEWS
Ray Bradley works on the elliptical at St. Luke’s to build up his strength after suffering a near fatal heart attack.
Thirty-three years ago Ray and Colleen Bradley vowed to stay together “until death do us part.” Last year they decided to take it further after Ray died while on a bicycle ride.
It was a mild evening when Colleen Bradley left her house for Pilates class with her neighbor Ginny Sosnowski.
About two blocks from the Bradleys’ house, at the intersection of Behrens Road and Midway Drive in Jim Thorpe, the two women saw three cars pulled to the side of the road.
“We didn’t see an accident but we saw a bunch of cars,” Colleen said. “I said ‘Ginny, pull over.’ When she asked why, I said ‘Ray’s on the bike.’ I didn’t see a bike. I didn’t see Ray, because he was in the ditch.”
After pulling over, Colleen jumped out and the people at the scene said that they hoped someone knew CPR. When she looked down she saw her husband.
“None of them knew how to do CPR at that time, so basically at that point there were three people, praying over him.”
Colleen and Ginny, who happened to be a CPR instructor, then started the resuscitation.
“I did the mouth-to-mouth, Ginny did the chest compressions. But the chest compressions are what saved him. I may have done my part, but it was her that did it.”
Pennsylvania State Police arrived on the scene, followed by Lehighton Ambulance.
“It felt like hours, but I think we did it for a good 10 minutes straight, but it did feel a lot longer than 10 minutes before they got there,” Colleen said.
About 15 minutes earlier, rather than going to the gym, Colleen’s husband, Ray, had decided to go for a bike ride around his neighborhood. He put on his favorite Notre Dame hoodie and got on his brand-new Fuji road bicycle his boys had bought him for Christmas.
“I was going up Midway. It’s a fairly good-sized hill so I wanted to see how I was doing with my training, to see if I was ready for hills. … And, no.”
Ray made it to the top of the hill, but that’s all he remembers.
Once the EMTs stabilized him, he was flown to St. Luke’s in Bethlehem. Colleen and their middle son, Kyle, went to the hospital by car with Sosnowski and her husband, Steve. Their youngest son, Dylan, working in the Lehigh Valley at the time, met them in the emergency room.
At St. Luke’s they got right to work.
He had a breathing tube put in. They said he had a cardiac arrest and he was taken to the cath lab.
“They found a blockage but they didn’t think that was the cause of the cardiac arrest, so they didn’t fix the blockage,” Colleen said. “They called it a perfect storm. He had low potassium, dehydration and something else that just all happened at the same time to cause the cardiac arrest. They said they’ll never know exactly.”
Colleen thanks her friend, Kim Sargent, a longtime employee at St. Luke’s, for helping her get through the ordeal.
“She was my mediator in the midst of it all. When the doctor is in the room with him for hours and I don’t know what’s going on, Kim would have the answers on my cellphone and constantly keep in touch. Just a good mediator and friend.” Colleen said.
Kim helped to get the helicopter routed to Bethlehem, where Colleen and the doctors were waiting. “Just little things like that meant a lot,” Colleen said.
10 minutes without oxygen
The doctors didn’t know how long Ray went without oxygen — they estimated 10 minutes from what Colleen told them — and also didn’t know how much damage had been done because he was still unconscious.
The next day, with his entire family there, he woke up.
“He was in the intensive care unit and we were all there. When he woke up I’ll never forget the look on his face, like he was scared to death,” Colleen said. “He looked at my oldest, Shawn, and I asked him if he knew Shawn, and he nodded yes. I said find Dylan in the room and he found Dylan, then he found me, and then we all started crying, because the doctors couldn’t tell us if he was going to know us.”
Although he remembered his family, there were still problems with his memory. Almost a year later he still doesn’t remember the event, or even the two weeks prior. There are still lots of gaps in his memory.
After a 10-day hospital stay, Ray was released and started cardiac rehab, but it didn’t go well.
“He tried to do cardiac rehab but wasn’t able to with the blood pressure. He kept having different arrhythmias.”
Arrhythmia is a change from the normal sequence of electrical impulses. The heart could beat too fast, too slowly or erratically.
‘You were dead’
One of the options Ray was given was having stents put in to clear the blockage found when he was brought in to the emergency room. It was a tricky and risky procedure because the artery that was blocked was one that was already bypassed five years earlier.
“I had open-heart surgery. I had four bypasses. They replaced my aortic valve with a mechanical valve. They also repaired an aortic aneurysm,” Ray said.
“That’s when he actually started feeling better, because before he still had that blockage,” Colleen said, “They said your quality of life is going to be this, or do you want us to try?”
Ray decided that he wanted them to try, because he couldn’t handle simple tasks without getting short of breath.
After the stent procedure he was able to complete a 12-week cardiac rehab at physical therapy at St. Luke’s near his home, and he continued to go after the rehab was done. While he was doing better than before the stents, he wasn’t improving.
“Things weren’t getting any better. It’s like I had reached a plateau,” Ray said. “I had an appointment with one of the cardiologists and I questioned him on that. I told him that I just wasn’t getting any better. I thought I’d be back at work by this point. We’re five months in and I’m not getting any better.
“They explained the difference between the first surgery I had six years ago and this event, how different they are. They reminded me, ‘you do realize, this time you were dead.’ ”
Active heart failure
The lack of improvement didn’t just affect Ray physically, but also mentally.
“I got to the point where I was doing the bare minimum of exercise and walks through the community. I go out once a day now instead of three or four times,” Ray said. “I didn’t have the energy. I didn’t have the drive. It just seemed that as hard as I was working, I just wasn’t getting any better.”
In October, Ray made an appointment with Dr. Sudip Nanda, the doctor who put in his pacemaker six months earlier.
“Dr. Nanda diagnosed me as being in active heart failure at that point.”
Nanda immediately changed his medication and set up an appointment with a heart failure specialist, Dr. Abhishek Singh.
“That’s when he actually, even though he didn’t start the medicine that day, that’s when he came out smiling because they found something. Something was wrong. Now there was hope there,” Colleen said.
Ray started seeing Singh in St. Luke’s cardiology group.
“When I saw him for the first time, I said that I needed someone to take control. To be the quarterback and give direction to the whole team. He’s that well-respected that that’s just naturally how it goes,” Ray said. “Now I had a game plan. He was aggressively attacking the issues as opposed to waiting to see what would happen. This guy had a plan to get me better. He was worried about my quality of life, and I was re-energized to get better.”
Singh joined Nanda and Ray’s general cardiologist, Dr. Richard Kolecki, taking the lead, becoming the quarterback of Ray’s team.
Singh, a big proponent to exercise, said he starts out appointments by asking Ray how he’s doing at the gym. Ray now hits the gym five to six days a week and is up to about an hour to an hour and 20 minutes of cardio each visit, working on the treadmill, stepper, bike, but mostly the elliptical. He also supplements his cardio workout with weight training.
Focus on the mind
With Ray’s body now moving in the right direction, they have started working on his mind, working with a speech therapist for cognitive therapy.
“Because of the oxygen loss to the brain, she’s reteaching him,” Colleen said. “He’s learning how to remember things a different way than you or I.”
When Ray first came home he’d have trouble following conversations and focusing on things. He was frustrated.
“I’d spend three hours food shopping, and not come home with everything on the list,” Ray said. “Now it’s better.”
Ray is doing everything he can to get through this and get back to life the way it was, and he knows it would not have been possible without Colleen. She jokes that even when they go out to eat she stays on him.
“When he’s looking at the menu and I see his eyes move to the unhealthy side, I quickly point him back to the healthy side,” she says with a laugh.
The Bradleys’ middle son Kyle and Ginny Sosnowski, both certified CPR instructors, held a free class on chest compressions for the community in Bear Creek Lakes. The three people who stopped for Ray that evening months earlier all came to the class.
It’s a long road, but Ray is ready to take it.
“I’m happy that I’m alive. That I’ve gotten another chance at life. God has blessed me with this opportunity, I understand that,” Ray said. “I’m not happy that I’m fighting through this, but I’m going to win. I’m going to get back.”