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A Heart for the Wilderness

Posted on September 14, 2016 in Cardiology

Bill Gober is well aware that he doesn’t look like the stereotypical heart patient. He doesn’t act like one, either.Covenant Health teams up to get local man from treatment back to trail

Bill Gober is well aware that he doesn’t look like the stereotypical heart patient. He doesn’t act like one, either.

Lean and energetic, Gober, 65, volunteers as a “trail rover” in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, hiking the Laurel Falls Trail and helping visitors enjoy the park in a safe and responsible manner. It requires a fairly high level of physical fitness, because he hikes the trail a couple of times every shift that he works.

“We protect our bears from the people, and hopefully cut down on graffiti,” Gober explains. “We pick up trash, answer questions about the park, and administer first aid.”

Gober carries a pack with things like bottled water and first aid supplies. In his first aid kit are four aspirin for use in case someone on the trail has a heart attack.

On Sept. 30, 2015, someone did have a heart attack on the trail. That someone was Bill Gober. He was treated at Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center.

“What makes you feel this bad this quick?”

Gober didn’t feel well when he pulled into the parking lot at the trailhead after lunch that day. As he hiked up the trail, he felt pain in his chest. He had just finished a chicken salad sandwich, and assumed he was suffering from heartburn and indigestion. Heart attack was the farthest thing from his mind.

“I’m usually on the trail carrying on conversations with people who are red faced and huffing and puffing when I’m not out of breath,” Gober says. “It wasn’t even on my radar scope that there was anything wrong.”

Sipping water in an effort to extinguish the burning in his chest, Gober reached the falls, and tried to ignore the pain that wouldn’t go away. He decided to turn around and go back to his car for an antacid, but didn’t get very far.

“I sat down on a rock not far from the falls,” Gober says. “I started thinking, ‘what makes you feel this bad this quick? It’s not flu. It’s got to be food poisoning. That chicken salad had to be bad.’”

Two park visitors asked Gober if he needed help. At that moment, Gober did something he had never done before. He handed his pack over and let someone else carry his load.

Continuing down the trail in worsening pain, Gober still wasn’t aware that the problem was in his heart. He sat down near a creek, and dipped his handkerchief in the cold water, pressing it to his face and neck to try to cool off.

Beginning to fear the worst, he gave his wife’s cell phone number to the hikers, and instructed them on how to use his radio if something bad should happened to him.

“I got up, I walked probably 20 feet, and I just laid down on the trail,” Gober says. He asked for his radio moments later, pulling himself up and returning to the rock. He pressed the button on the side of the radio, and reported his own medical emergency.

“700, Laurel Falls Rover, I’m not feeling well. I need a carry out,” Gober said. Dispatch asked what his symptoms were.

“I’ve got intense heartburn, indigestion, I’m fatigued and out of breath…and I have just started a cold, clammy sweat like I have never sweat before in my life,’” Gober told the dispatcher.           

Gober had come to terms with the fact that he was experiencing a heart attack.

“700, I have four aspirin in my pack, and I’m taking them now,” he called.   

As he waited on the trail, Gober thought about how embarrassed he would be if the lights and sirens came and it turned out to be nothing more than indigestion. 

Gober remembers being carried down the trail as passersby offered words of support, promising prayers. The man who usually cares for others was moved by the compassion he experienced at a time when he was the one in need of help.

Gober was familiar with the excellent healthcare offered at Covenant Health facilities and requested to be taken to one of their hospitals. The EMTs who responded took Gober to the closest tertiary Covenant Health facility, Fort Sanders Regional in Knoxville.

Speaking from experience

Bill Gober worked for 36 years of his career selling hospital surgical supplies, including supplies used for heart patients. Having spent countless hours in hospitals throughout the Southeast, it doesn’t take him long to size one up.

He can quickly go through a mental check list regarding Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center – it was clean, it was well lit, employees were courteous and smiling, nurses were cheerful with no grumblings about their hours. Gober felt at ease, even though he didn’t yet know about the feature of the hospital that would mean the most to him.

Fort Sanders Regional’s award-winning Heart Center provides comprehensive cardiac services. Advanced diagnostics, interventional technologies, cardiovascular surgery, and clinical trials are tailored to meet each patient’s individual needs.

State-of-the-art diagnostic tools available at Fort Sanders Regional include the area’s first Lightspeed® 64-slice VCT Scanner, Vivid 7® echocardiography, nuclear stress tests, and electrocardiograms. Fort Sanders Regional has also earned acclaim for the speed with which patients can be treated.

The trip from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to the doors of Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center was a long one, but once Gober was in the hands of cardiologist Chase Trotter, MD, it took a mere 11 minutes to open the artery that was prompting the heart attack. Trotter explains that the more quickly a patient can be treated, the better the chance of recovery.

“The main objective in treating an acute heart attack is minimizing ‘time to reperfusion,’ or the amount of time it takes to open an occluded heart artery,” Trotter says. “In Bill’s case every aspect of his care played an important role in minimizing the reperfusion time – his understanding of the symptoms of a heart attack, early recognition by emergency medical services, coming to the closest facility equipped to handle emergency angioplasty and dedication to rehab in the post-operative phase were all vital in his recovery.”

Gober completed rehabilitation with Covenant Health’s Parkwest Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation (CROP) in February of this year. On March 15, Gober returned to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to once again hike the Laurel Falls trail.

The lesson Gober has learned is simple, and he will share it with anyone who is willing to listen. “Recognize the signs of a heart attack, and don’t wait to call for help,” he says.

If you want to know more about heart procedures at Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center, call Covenant Health at (865) 541-4500. Or you could ask someone who’s been there.