Surviving a Heart Attack: Paul Rotkis’ Story

May 16, 2023

Urgent care is essential for survival and recovery.

The average person does not seek medical care until about three hours after they experience the first heart attack symptoms—but, tragically, about half of heart attack deaths occur in the first 3 to 4 hours after symptom onset. It is essential that a suspected heart attack be treated as an emergency, and that emergency medical services are requested.

Misconceptions about heart attack symptoms persist, perhaps due to dramatic television depictions causing many to imagine a heart attack as shooting pains emanating from the upper chest region, a gasp, and then a violent collapse. In reality, the types of symptoms vary, and educating yourself and your loved ones about the common – and not-so-common – warning signs of a heart attack is key to survival and recovery.

Paul Rotkis, a former AHVI patient, heart attack survivor, and trained EMT, discusses his second heart attack in this video.

“On May 4th, 2021, I was riding my bike to work and felt a tightness in my throat. Things started to get gray and a little darker, and then I had tunnel vision. So, I stopped my bike, sat down, passed out, woke up 15 minutes later—knew something wasn’t right. I called my wife; she came and got me. I went home and I had other symptoms of a heart attack—I dry heaved three times… Those aren’t typical symptoms that we’re taught as EMTs, you know. So, even though I was trained as an EMT, I didn’t recognize those symptoms.

…When I felt those symptoms on May 4th, I should have called 9-1-1 on my cellphone. 9-1-1, if you even remotely think that you’re having a cardiac event, it’s better to have EMS arrive and you don’t need them and you get transported [to the hospital], than they don’t arrive when you do need them.”

Once he was in the hospital for treatment after his second heart attack, Paul’s condition quickly deteriorated into full cardiovascular shutdown. After performing CPR for 30 minutes, the doctors were able to stabilize Paul’s condition enough to temporarily link him to a machine that supported his body’s automatic functions until he was strong enough to reclaim them.

We’re very happy to report that Paul’s heart attack story ends with a medical miracle. He recovered quickly from a damaging heart attack, ensuing stroke, nerve damage, and the general physical trauma his entire body endured from a major medical event. Today, he’s back on his bike, with his family, and continues his work as a Safety Coordinator for the Port of Anchorage.

Through education and by caring for one another, we can help heart attack patients get the urgent care they need. Please note that women are somewhat more likely to exhibit uncommon symptoms, such as nausea, flu-like symptoms, shortness of breath, and back or jaw pain.

Learn the warning signs and symptoms of a heart attack:

  • Pain or discomfort in chest
  • Jaw, neck, or back pain
  • Discomfort or pain in arm or shoulder
  • Lightheadedness, nausea, or vomiting
  • Shortness of breath

Know the signs for yourself and your family, and if you’re concerned that someone near you experienced a heart attack, then act quickly—you could save a life.

Mission: Lifeline Alaska is a collaborative project designed to enhance heart attack care for all Alaskans. Thank you to grant funders: the Foss Family Foundation, Mat-Su Health Foundation, the Rasmuson Foundation and Calais Company, Inc. who are dedicated to ensuring that the right care is available at the right time for heart attack patients in Alaska.