In the Loop

News and views from across Mayo Clinic

November 12, 2019

All Hands on Deck: Larry Oelkers Suffers Heart Attack, Community Rushes To Help

By In the Loop
Larry Oelkers was just about to leave a high school football game when he went into cardiac arrest. His community jumped in to help save his life.

Larry Oelkers was just about to leave a high school football game when he went into cardiac arrest. His community jumped in to help save his life.


There were three minutes left in the game. The Byron High School football team was well in control, leading 42-13. So Larry Oelkers and his girlfriend, Doris Jensen, decided to leave early to get ahead of the Friday night lights traffic. As it turns out, Larry's night was just beginning. After arriving at the car and putting the keys in the ignition, KTTC reports, Larry went into sudden cardiac arrest. "I knew life was changing right in front of me," Doris tells the station. "It's a question of, 'Are we gonna pull through or not?'"

Larry and Doris would ultimately pull through, thanks to a long chain of help, support and treatment that began with a phone call from Doris to Larry's daughter, Stacy Douglas, who was still in the stands. "I just jumped up in the stands and said, 'My dad's having a heart attack, I need all the help I can get!'" Douglas, a neonatal ICU nurse at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, tells KTTC.

Fortunately, in a town less than 10 miles from Rochester and Mayo Clinic, help was all around her. "All these people began following me to the parking lot," Douglas tells us. "Some were passing me."

Regardless of the order of arrival, Douglas tells us everyone's intent was the same. "The willingness of everyone at the game to help our family in that situation was so incredible," she says. "Some had already started bystander CPR by the time I got to him. Others then helped lift him out of his car so we could continue doing CPR on a flat surface. Others helped with crowd control, calling 911, and running to find an AED. The amount of support that was given to us as a family that night is something we'll never forget."

That support continued, Douglas tells us, when a Mayo Clinic Ambulance Service crew rushed Larry to the Emergency Department following two automated external defibrillator shocks to his heart that helped get his pulse back. "We were met by the Resuscitation Team," Douglas tells us. "They did an X-ray and echocardiogram and then transported my dad to the catheterization lab," she says, where they learned four of Larry's major vessels were blocked. Things weren't looking good.

It was at that point, however, that cardiovascular surgeon John Stulak, M.D., joined Larry's care team to perform an emergency triple coronary bypass surgery as soon as Larry was stable enough to handle the procedure. "My dad was back home within seven days," Douglas says. "He's now doing cardiac rehab at Mayo while recovering at home."

All thanks to the quick action, quick thinking and caring of those who helped make it happen. "I don't know how to best sum up the gratitude we feel as a family for all the care my dad has received," Douglas says. "It's been exceptional from start to finish, and we're so very thankful to everyone who stood up to help without hesitation. The events of that night couldn't have been scripted better — everything fell into place the way it needed to in order for my dad to survive."

You can read more of Larry's story here. Then let us know what you think by sharing your comments below before using the handy social media tools to share this story with others.


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Tags: Cardiac Rehabilitation Program, Catherterization Lab, Coronary Bypass Surgery, Dr. John Stulak, Mayo Clinic Ambulance Service, Patient Stories, Sudden Cardiac Arrest

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