It was a Sunday in August, and Robert Clay had just made a putt on the 15th green of the Rich Maiden Golf Course near Fleetwood.
From what he’s been told, as he reached down to retrieve the ball, he sank down onto one knee and said to his golf partners, “something isn’t right.”
Clay recalls none of that, nor much of what happened to him for the next 12 hours. What he does know, however, if not for the speedy and capable efforts of other golfers, the EMTs who treated him, and Penn State Health St. Joseph’s Emergency Department and Heart Institute staff, he would not be alive after suffering cardiac arrest.
“They told me when I woke up in the hospital that I was really lucky,” Clay said during a recent interview. “They said that most people who have the kind of heart attack I had don’t make it. I hate to think what would have happened if I had been home by myself, or out in the woods hunting.”
After Clay fell onto the golf course, one of his golfing buddies started CPR. No one in the foursome had a cell phone, so a player behind them called 911.
Northern Berks Emergency Medical Services was on the scene in less than 10 minutes, and paramedics treated Clay en route to Penn State Health St. Joseph. On two different occasions, they could detect neither a pulse nor a heartbeat.
“They told me that I flat-lined twice, but the EMTs used the paddles on me and brought me back,” Clay said. “Then, when I got to the hospital, they were all ready for me in the Emergency Department.”
After being treated and stabilized in the ED, Clay was moved to the St. Joseph’s Heart Institute, where a stent was placed to open a blocked artery. He was released three days later, grateful to be going home.
The Spring Township resident, who is 60, had very few symptoms before the cardiac arrest, which he was told was triggered by a blood clot caused by heart arrhythmia.
“I didn’t have any pain, or anything like that,” he explained. “The only thing I can think of is that for about a week before it happened, I felt really sluggish. Like, I’d wake up in the morning and feel still tired.”
Clay, whose father and two brothers died of heart disease, currently is in cardiac rehabilitation at Berks Cardiology, and says he is feeling well.
He is changing his diet to avoid fats and salts, and has stopped smoking cigarettes.
“I sent my son to my house while I was in the hospital to get rid of all the cigarettes,” Clay said. “I’m wearing a patch now. Every now and then I crave a little bit, but then I think about something else and it’s okay. I should have given them up a long time ago.”
Reading food labels is time consuming, said Clay, who lives alone, but he’s doing his best. Changing his eating habits won’t be easy, but he’s determined.
“I’m Pennsylvania Dutch, so I like some shleck,” he said. “And, what I’m really going to miss is my all-time favorite, fresh-cut French fries.”
Clay, however, who is the father of a son and a daughter and the grandfather of five, is determined to improve his health.
“I’ve got my family, and I just retired from Car Tech last year,” Clay said. “I’ve got a lot to live for, and I want to stick around for a while and enjoy it.”