MARIETTA — Ten years after being dubbed a “miracle man” for surviving a massive heart attack that left him without a pulse for around 30 minutes, Alan Durham said he takes nothing for granted.
Family and health care workers on the scene that day gathered Sunday for a surprise party at Glover Park Brewery in Marietta to mark both Durham’s 65th birthday and the 10-year anniversary of his miracle survival. Alan Durham’s wife, Angie Durham, and a group of nurses helped organize the event. And, Angie Durham noted, the brewery didn’t charge for their reservation when they explained what they aimed to do.
Alan and Angie Durham entered the brewery on Sunday evening to a crowd of their children, grandchildren, friends, nurses and doctors, flanked by cakes and balloons. Durham grinned from ear to ear as the crowd shouted “surprise” and bent over with his hands on his knees, temporarily overcome with emotion.
He held back tears as he hugged his family and the team of health care workers that saved his life that day a decade ago at Wellstar Kennestone Hospital.
“This is amazing,” Durham, a west Cobb resident and father of three, said as he soaked in the atmosphere.
He choked up as he looked around the room, noting how special it was that people like the nurses and Dr. Michael Nitzken, the emergency room doctor that day 10 years ago, and Dr. George Kramer, his current cardiologist who continues to monitor his health, would attend.
“They’ve probably never done this before — gone back to an old patient for something like that,” he said. “For them to do this for me, it just tells you how special this time was. I had one of the nurses tell me a year or so ago, ‘There was something different in the room that night. It wasn’t just a normal heart attack.’”
A week after celebrating his 55th birthday on May 23, 2011, Alan Durham and his wife began with a morning workout and plans to visit one of their daughters. But upon arriving home, Durham said he knew something wasn’t right.
Soon, he was in an ambulance and on his way to Kennestone with Angie Durham riding along. Alan Durham said he thought everything was going to be fine — he even joked with the EMTs during the ride. But minutes before they’d arrived at the hospital, he collapsed without a pulse.
Beth Borders, now an assistant nurse manager at Wellstar Cobb Hospital, was in the room when Alan Durham arrived in the emergency room that day.
“He needed to be defibrillated multiple times,” she said, adding that they’d just begun the process of bringing families into the room while they work to resuscitate a patient. So, they brought Angie Durham in to talk in his ear.
“That was one of the first times we’d done that. So when Mrs. Durham came in, she leaned down and said, ‘Please don’t leave me,’ and all these sweet things,” Borders said. “We were all honestly crying but still working him, still defibrillating him, still doing CPR while she was in the room.”
Angie Durham said she remembered feeling in shock when she entered the room. She said she barely recognized her husband.
“It didn’t even look like him at all. He was all swollen up, his eyes didn’t look like him, he wasn’t breathing, he just didn’t look like him at all,” Angie Durham said. “They told me to talk to him, and I did.”
Angie Durham said she remembers telling him in his ear that she loved him, that she couldn’t live without him and shouting, “Please don’t leave me.” Shortly after returning to a “huddle” of family waiting in the hospital, she said she remembers the doctors telling her “he’s back.”
Borders and the other medical staff there that day said they all believed they were calling Angie Durham in to say her goodbyes. But, almost immediately after she left Alan Durham’s normal pulse returned.
Borders and Kennestone ER nurse Kim Harper say it’s a miracle that he survived and that bringing Angie Durham into the room is a major reason for that survival.
“That’s what changed everything for everybody,” Harper said. “It just put it more into perspective. We continued to do what we do with his wife in the room. It was very emotional, but obviously it was worth it, because I really believe that’s what made the difference — hearing his wife say those things.”
“I think that nursing and science goes pretty far, but I think on top of that maybe true love and Jesus is why he’s here,” added Borders.
Alan Durham spent about a week in a medically induced coma, during which time, doctors told the family they had to be prepared for him to have brain damage, not be able to walk or talk and other possibilities associated with the brain being starved for oxygen for as long as he was.
But that wasn’t the case, and today, he says he’s never felt better. And, he said, he’s thankful for the close friendships he maintains with those who helped to save his life 10 years ago.
Nitzken, who Alan Durham said had approached him with a warm hug and told him he loved him when he arrived to the party, said it was “a jaw drop moment” when his heart restarted minutes after his wife spoke to him. He said the practice was new, but one he believed in. And he, added with a laugh, “I’m glad he listens to his wife.”
For their part, Alan Durham’s three children — James Durham, Allison Gurski and Stephanie Polk — say they’re just happy to have their dad around to spend time with him, get advice and for him to see his six grandchildren grow up.
Angie Durham said her husband of 45 years has a new attitude on life after his near-death experience, and she feels “blessed every day he’s here.”
“And we never, ever let this day go. We always recognize it. He calls it his resurrection day,” she said with a laugh.
Like many others, Alan Durham, too, maintains that it was divine intervention that saved him a decade ago. And since then, as his wife said, he’s been trying to live his life to make it worth it.
“It was God. He let me come back, and I’m forever grateful.”