'I hadn't ever been dead before': CTV News Vancouver's Mike McCardell and his cardiologist reflect on close call
Mike McCardell doesn’t remember much about those three days in September.
And what he does recall, he tries to reason, doesn’t seem to make a whole lot of sense.
“I was in a blackness – total, absolute blackness," he says. "I could touch the blackness, I could taste the blackness."
And somewhere in that, he thinks, was light.
“That’s what everybody wants to hear: you saw a light,” McCardell says. “Yeah I did, I saw a light. But it was red.”
Somehow, in the span of a few short weeks, he seems to have grown uncomfortably at ease with the fact for a few moments or minutes, he’s not sure exactly how long, his heart shut down.
“The heart went out of rhythm, that’s all, like it was squirting out when it should have been squirting in,” he says. “And then it stopped.”
It wasn’t a heart attack.
But a type of irregular heartbeat known as ventricular fibrillation.
And it seemed to come out of nowhere, though in retrospect, McCardell says, those close to him, from his CTV News photographer, to his editor, to his wife’s boss, were telling him, he didn’t look well.
Hindsight being what it is, he admits, perhaps, he should have listened.
“Would I be bright enough to think that because I’m dizzy and I have to hold onto a wall and I have to sit down, that something’s wrong? No!” McCardell said.
His wife’s manager insisted on driving the pair to the UBC hospital.
McCardell took a few steps, then collapsed in the driveway
“(My doctor) said, 'I never expected to see you again, ever. You were dead,'” McCardell recalls.
An emergency room team, including Dr. Noah Alexander, as well as cardiologist Dr. Graham Wong, brought McCardell back to life.
“He knew what he was doing so he crushed right through the ribs, broke two ribs so he could get right to the heart,” McCardell says.
Wong calls McCardell lucky.
He describes the cardiac arrest as “an electrical problem where the rhythm of the heart changed from a regular one to a chaotic one.”
Something, Wong says, that unlike a heart attack, doesn’t often come with clear warning signs, and even if it did, they're typically unique to each person.
“The heart, essentially, instead of beating, quivers,” Wong says.
McCardell was placed into a coma.
His body temperature was regulated.
And he was transferred to Vancouver General Hospital’s cardiac intensive care unit.
Somewhere in those three days, he received a special implant.
“This is me and my defibrillator,” McCardell says, showing me the outline, about the circumference of a golf ball, under his breast pocket.
“If it gets out of beat, this thing sends a shock to it. A very strong shock, like the kick of a horse, I’m told.”
He doesn’t want to find out.
Wong calls the “fancy pacemaker” like a “paramedic in your pocket."
“Almost like an insurance policy,” Wong says. “You hope you never need to use it.”
“I feel better. I feel lucky. I feel blessed. I feel amazed,” McCardell says.
We're interrupted when a golden leaf falls from a tree above us right into his hand.
He smiles: "Holy mackerel!"
And Wong adds one big reason McCardell likely survived is not luck, but because of where he collapsed, with trained professionals just seconds away.
“Anybody can save a life,” Wong says.
And when I ask McCardell what advice he might give to his former self?
“Listen to your camera guy, listen to your editor, whoever it is, your wife,” he says.
“If they say you look crummy and you should go to a doctor, go to a doctor.”
“Now I’m officially not dead,” McCardell adds.
“So do I have something to be thankful for? You bet!”