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From left: Jeff Patten; Stacey Fifer; Richard Fifer, holding Alora; and Kathy Patten

One Moment

December 1, 2021
Millions of tiny moments make up our lifetime. We recall some moments more readily than others because they are tinged with meaning. While others are so mundane, we frequently forget to offer them the gratitude they might deserve.

Kathy Patten had seven grandchildren come into the world before July 2, 2021. But the moment Patten decided to cancel her golf game that day to join her daughter, Stacey Fifer, in GBMC’s Labor and Delivery Department changed everything — for her and for the staff at GBMC.

Minutes after arriving to GBMC, Patten began to feel unwell. When her health was not improving, Fifer called for the nurse to have her mom checked out. It was decided Patten would go to the Emergency Department for further evaluation. On her way to the ED, Patten went into cardiac arrest. She was without a heart rate, blood pressure, or oxygen to her brain.

Director of the Division of Medical and Surgical Critical Care at GBMC, David Vitberg, MD, and a team of 30 to 40 clinicians cared for Patten in the back hallway of GBMC’s Labor and Delivery Department. The skills, expertise, and training present in the hallway were orchestrated together in perfect harmony. Every member of the team knew their role, when to step in and when to fall back. When to intubate, when to compress, when to shift tactics. A couple of nurses even wrote notes on medications given and steps taken on the walls. Each member of the care team used clinical training and flexibility, muscle memory, and intuition.

Every moment the team worked on Patten counted.

Kathy Patten with her granddaughter, Alora
After being considered clinically dead for 48 minutes, Patten miraculously awoke with a regular heartbeat and without any damage to her brain. There would be many more moments of recovery in GBMC’s Emergency Department and at St. Joseph’s Hospital where she was transferred, received wonderful cardiac interventional care, and was set on a pathway for cardiac rehabilitation. Today, Patten is alive and well. And, after a successful delivery and two days in GBMC’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), her granddaughter, Alora, is as well.

“Although most of us first met Kathy unconscious in the back hallway of Labor and Delivery, we already knew a little about her story,” Dr. Vitberg said. “Knowing the person lying in the hospital bed – or in this case the back of a hallway – is a mother, a wife, a soon-to-be grandmother (again), infuses you with extra motivation. It's a reminder you are taking care of someone’s loved one and caring for people is so much more meaningful and rewarding than caring for patients.”

A commitment to caring for patients as if they were loved ones is not only GBMC’s vision statement, but the driver for implementing cutting-edge initiatives.

GBMC recently earned the official title of a Resuscitation Quality Improvement (RQI) Lighthouse Organization for the adoption and consistent use of an innovative CPR training program. GBMC is the first hospital in Maryland to receive this designation and to require the RQI system for training nurses, residents, and intensivists more efficiently in CPR, advanced cardiac life support, and pediatric advanced life support.

“This story highlights for me that the hard work of clinicians who care and are experts in their field is necessary for outstanding performance, but is not the whole story,” John B. Chessare, MD, MPH, President and CEO of GBMC HealthCare said. “The added value of well-designed systems, systems thinking, leadership, and training as a team for infrequent and life-threatening situations like the one the team encountered with Kathy that day in Labor and Delivery make all the difference.”

Patten and her husband, Jeff, returned to GBMC on Sept. 14 to thank the staff. They were joined by their son-in-law and daughter, holding baby Alora, someone who will always be inextricably linked to her grandmother, a light that called her to GBMC that day.

“It was a second chance at life,” Patten said. “I’m just going to be the best person I can be in every way and I’m grateful for every minute I have.”

After 18 months of moments filled with stress and burnout due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a cyberattack, and healthcare worker shortages, staff at GBMC felt the gratitude toward Patten just as deeply.

“I don’t say you’re welcome, I say thank you,” emergency physician Dov Frankel MD, MSC, FACEP said. “You taught us what it means to live. You taught us what it means not to give up.”

“This time has been stressful, unsettling, at times depressing, at times hopeless, demoralizing. In the hospital, we’re working longer hours, we’re taking care of more patients, sicker patients often with less resources and it often feels unrelenting and exhausting,” Dr. Vitberg said. “But a major ripple effect of your story is it gave us all a much-needed reset. We needed you to come in here to visit us with your daughter.

“It reset me when I desperately needed to be reset. You saved a lot of us.”

Even for just a moment.
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