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Category: Heart and Vascular

From Crisis to Recovery: A Patient's Story

It was a normal day for Gary Morgan. The grandfather of three has lived in Gastonia his whole life and during a walk with his miniature schnauzer, Pepper, became unusually short of breath. While the sensation was uncomfortable, he did not think much of it at first. But soon, the shortness of breath turned into an uncomfortable inability to breathe accompanied by an impending sense of dread. Aided by a neighbor and Gaston County Emergency Medical Services (GEMS), Morgan was rushed to the emergency room at CaroMont Regional Medical Center. 

“I wasn’t just hard to breathe, although I could not catch my breath,” remembers Mr. Morgan. “But I felt sure I was going to die in the ambulance. I had an overwhelming sense of doom. It was not peaceful at all; it was frightening.” 

Gary Morgan, Gastonia native is passionate about living a healthy life after a recent medical crisis.

Recognizing the danger of Mr. Morgan’s symptoms, medical professionals, including Dr. John Schindler, Interventional Cardiologist with CaroMont Heart & Vascular, got to work. Mr. Morgan was suffering from a saddle pulmonary embolism, or blood clots blocking both sides of his lungs. Imaging revealed the clots were extensive, preventing his flow of oxygen. Pulmonary embolisms affect over 900,000 individuals a year in the United States, but the severity of Mr. Morgan’s condition caused alarm. 

“A saddle pulmonary embolism results in death for about 40% of those who develop it,” said Dr. Schindler who specializes in structural cardiology. “Mr. Morgan had a spectrum of clots when he came in through the emergency department and his entire blood flow to the lungs was impaired. Put simply, his condition was as serious as it gets.” 

A multidisciplinary heart team convened to understand the full picture of Mr. Morgan’s condition and determine the best course of treatment to resolve the clotting. A thrombectomy was successful in removing the blockages from his pulmonary arteries. 

After a four-day stay at CaroMont Regional Medical Center, Mr. Morgan remembers two things: his view of the Christmas tree on top of the hospital, and the care team he credits with saving his life and helping ease his anxiety and discomfort during a time of great challenge. 

“Everyone, from the housekeepers to my night nurse, Corey, were special people,” remembers Mr. Morgan. “Eusther Toussaint, the Nurse Practitioner who cared for me in the ICU, took the time to check on me once I moved to the recovery unit. Her support filled me with great peace and her presence was restorative.” 

While the emergency procedure gave Mr. Morgan immediate relief, it took another several weeks for him to regain the confidence to return to everyday activities. He keeps regular, follow-up visits with his CaroMont Heart cardiologist, Dr. Anthony Arn, with whom he shares a strong sense of faith. 

“I haven’t felt this good in a long time,” said Mr. Morgan. “I have a whole new lease on life and with that, I feel I’m here for a reason. And I'm going to do what I can to now find my purpose.” 

For now, that purpose includes getting back to the things he loves: walking Pepper, visiting Myrtle Beach for the music and dancing, and finding as much time as possible to spend with his two daughters and their children. He’s also committed to sharing an important health message:  

“Every day, get up and move, go for a walk and look after your health. It’s so important, especially as you age. So, watch your diet and the time you spend on the couch. Get out and walk a little bit. You’ve just got to get up and move.” 

Mr. Morgan with his two daughters and grandchildren, who serve as motivation for him to stay active, stay healthy and stay well.

And for the surgeon he credits with saving his life? Dr. Schindler and Mr. Morgan reunited recently to share a handshake, hug and exchange words of kindness and encouragement. 

“Different people have different skills,” Mr. Morgan told Dr. Schindler. “Some people build buildings, some pave driveways and make patios. I told Dr. Schindler to take those pictures of what he removed from my lungs and use it to show people the truly incredible work he does every day.” 

Mr. Morgan and Dr. Schindler reunite at CaroMont Regional Medical Center in Gastonia for the first time since Morgan's hospitalization.

Learn more about cardiac services at CaroMont Health.