Nearby medical personnel and an experienced surgeon took the quick steps necessary to help football coach Charlie Newman.

Fast action wins the “game”

Charlie Robyn Newman Srmh Heart Vascular

Before Sept. 12, 2014, high school football coach Charlie Newman had never heard of an aortic dissection, a condition in which a tear occurs in a major artery transporting blood out of the heart. Unfortunately he suffered the condition as he was coaching a Friday night football game. He felt a flutter and a sharp pain in the left side of his chest.

“I thought I was having a heart attack,” recalls Charlie, 55.

As good luck would have it, a rescue squad happened to be parked at the end of the field.

Ready and waiting

During Charlie’s ambulance ride, the Sentara RMH Medical Center Emergency Department (ED) was alerted that a presumed stroke patient was coming in. Part of Charlie’s face was dropping, a classic sign of a stroke.

“When I saw he was a young, athletic guy, it didn’t make sense that he would have an ischemic stroke,” says Dr. Christina Johnson, an ED physician. “Then I asked if he was having any chest pains.”

Although he was very sick, Charlie replied “Yes.”

Dr. Johnson then suspected an aortic dissection. A chest CT scan confirmed the diagnosis.

Dr. Jerome McDonald, Sentara RMH Medical Center’s cardiothoracic surgeon, had the expertise to help Charlie.

Time is of the essence

In the past, a patient like Charlie would have been transported to another hospital for emergency surgery. With Dr. McDonald on staff, that was no longer necessary.

Charlie’s wife, Robyn, was amazed the next morning after the surgery: Charlie’s first words to her, with no memory of what had transpired since leaving the football game, were “Who won the game?”

“Then he asked about the tailgating we had planned at a JMU game that day,” Robyn recalls. “We all started crying.”

When Dr. Johnson visited Charlie a few days later, she found him sitting up in bed with his laptop, watching the football game he’d missed.

Robyn calls the treatment her husband received during his week at Sentara RMH phenomenal.

Charlie, who always took good care of himself, still walks 50 minutes a day, four days per week. For a time, he had three sessions of cardiac rehab a week at the Sentara RMH Heart and Vascular Center.

“I feel stronger every day,” he says

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