Mike Mitchener suffered a massive heart attack that should have left him dead. Now he’s back and Mike is stronger than ever.
On September 11, 2014, Mike Mitchener was having a pretty ordinary day. He’d put in a full shift as general manager of the local Sam’s Club when the store manager told him she’d take care of the closing duties. Thankful for the unexpected gift of a couple of extra hours, Mike left around five and decided to do his workout a little earlier. An avid gym rat, he normally did four or five sessions a week. That day, he decided to push himself a little harder.
A little over 90 minutes later, Mike was walking through the parking lot, headed back to his vehicle when he recognized someone he knew, one of his daughter’s friends. That’s the last thing he remembers.
“I must have passed out – my memory gets a little foggy,” Mike says. “But she told me later that I looked really bad, really pale, so she came back to check on me.”
That decision saved Mike’s life.
Come to find out that girl was Kayli Cantrell, who happens to work in the Cardiac Cath Lab at Halifax Health. She and another man helped lift Mike from the ground to carry him back inside the gym where he called 911 and she contacted some key personnel at the hospital. Mike was in good hands, but he was far from out of the woods. Nine minutes later, when the ambulance arrived, it would actually get worse – a lot worse.
Mike’s heart stopped.
The first responders shocked his torso and performed CPR in a frantic effort to get him back. It worked, but when they got him into the ER, his vitals flat-lined.
“They got my heart firing again and brought me up to the cardiac unit where they determined that I’d had a ‘widowmaker’ heart attack, which normally has a 98 percent death rate,” Mike recounts. “They knew they were battling time.”
His heart would stop two more times while in surgery and he would also suffer a stroke and a pulmonary embolism, which is when a blood clot lands in the lungs. He now had less than half a percent chance of surviving without any permanent injury.
His cardiologist, Dr. Stephen Minor, even recommended intravascular hypothermia treatment, a revolutionary new technology that lowers the patient’s body temperature in order to slow down the metabolism and maximize the amount of time that treatment can be administered. “Code Cool,” as it’s known at Halifax Health, would give Mike valuable minutes – and a fighting chance.
“This caused my body temperature to drop in order to slow down the damage from the stroke,” he says. “Needless to say, I was in extremely bad shape.”
“At some point in time, I opened my eyes and realized I was in heaven,” he continues. “The streets were paved with the most beautiful stones I’d ever seen – words can’t describe how beautiful they were. It was mind-boggling.”
Mike Mitchener has always been athletic. He played baseball well enough in high school and college to be drafted by the White Sox organization. For three years he pitched for their farm teams in Utica, South Bend, and Sarasota.
He even got to audition during the same offseason as a certain Chicago basketball legend that had briefly left the hard courts for a baseball diamond.
“I saw Michael Jordan in spring training,” Mike remembers, “but I didn’t really get to talk to him.”
Fast-forward 25 years and now Mike has a management job with Sam’s Club, enjoys being a dad to his four children, and maintains an active community profile, serving on local boards and giving back to his church and his community whenever possible.
At 48, Mike drinks sparingly, doesn’t smoke, eats well, and takes care of himself. It’s not too hard to imagine that he could still fire a fastball at an opposing batter.
“The doctors were very surprised that someone in my physical shape suffered this. Usually it’s someone who’s severely overweight at this age.”
Mike woke up with one of his closest friends at his side. The last two weeks of his life – on a respirator in an induced coma – had passed like a few sweeps of a clock’s hands. Mike had no recall of what had happened to him, aside from his unwavering belief that he had been sent back to Earth for some unfinished purpose.
“I was the typical guy you’d see every Sunday in church. I prayed over people and held somebody’s hand when they were struggling,” he says. “Was it luck? Fate? I don’t know. I think God had a plan for me and this was part of it.”
Mike also recognizes that he had “some angels on the ground” during every step of his perilous journey to recovery. He says he became “sort of a rock star” in the hospital, inspiring many to come by to see this living, breathing miracle of life.
“I have never been treated so well in my life. The medical professionals who worked on me – from the nurses to the doctors – were wonderful. And everyone came to see me, I guess since I was such a rare find, even Halifax Health President and CEO, Jeff Feasel. It was just a revolving door of people who wanted to come in to see how I was doing. It was incredible.”
Currently undergoing additional testing and cognitive rehab therapy, Mike is otherwise as healthy and vibrant as he was before his 9/11, aside from some short-term memory loss. His doctors’ prognosis is for a full recovery, a supersized miracle considering what he endured.
“I don’t know why I was selected to experience death, but I’m back and stronger than ever,” he offers. “I’ve been restored.”