Mike Connelly's family and many of his nurses are calling him a miracle man ---- and doctors are hard-pressed to disagree.
The 56-year-old Vista man's heart stopped in late January and he lay in a coma for 96 hours before his family tearfully gave the OK for physicians at Tri-City Medical Center to disconnect life support.
That's when Connelly woke up.
His stepson, Mike Cooper, was reading Scripture beside Connelly's hospital bed last week when he saw a tear slide down the man's cheek.
Cooper said he didn't think that was significant until he left the room and started walking down the hallway, only to hear shouts from a family member still at Connelly's side.
"He said Mike was responding," Cooper said. "I didn't believe him, but I went back in there, and it was true. You would say his name, and he would turn his head toward you. It was a miracle."
Though doctors had pronounced Connelly's case hopeless and said his brain would never recover, today he is showing steady progress. Those same doctors say Connelly seems headed for a full recovery.
Martin Nielsen, Connelly's pulmonary doctor, said it is not a stretch to call the sudden recovery miraculous.
"When we get a guy like Mike Connelly, it's almost like a miracle," Nielsen said. "I've never seen anybody come back like he has."
Connelly's ordeal started at his home around 6 a.m. Jan. 31, when he developed an arrhythmia ---- an electrical short circuit in the heart muscle that causes the vital organ to stop beating, usually with no warning.
Connelly's wife, Loris, said she awoke to the sound of choking.
She found her husband slumped forward in his easy chair, a half-eaten bowl of Raisin Bran in his lap, in the living room of the couple's Vista apartment.
At 6 feet 8 inches and more than 250 pounds, Connelly is not easy to move.
His wife was unable to get him out of his chair and onto the floor by herself.
"I found him totally unconscious," she recalled Monday. "I couldn't find a pulse. I couldn't find any air. He wasn't breathing."
Fearing her husband was dead, Loris Connelly called 911. According to NorthComm fire dispatch records, the call came in at 6:10 a.m. and paramedics arrived at the apartment on Shadowridge Drive at 6:16 a.m.
Nielsen said that when paramedics arrived, Connelly's heart had stopped beating.
He said an electrocardiogram tape recorded during resuscitation efforts showed that paramedics performed CPR and delivered multiple shocks with a portable defibrillator for about 35 minutes before they were able to get the man's heart beating again.
Although no one knows exactly how long Connelly's brain went without oxygen, Nielsen said it had to be at least 10 minutes. That length of time, he said, usually results in severe brain damage if a patient ever regains consciousness.
"Generally, the rule of thumb is if you go for more than four minutes without oxygen, you will see severe damage to the brain," Nielsen said.
Paramedics drove the unconscious man to Tri-City Medical Center, where doctors decided that inducing hypothermia was Connolly's best chance for survival.
They used special cooling blankets to drop his temperature from the normal 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit to about 93 degrees.
The cold, Nielsen explained, helps keep the brain from swelling and has been shown in clinical studies to reduce brain damage.
After 24 hours of cooling, doctors tried to bring Connelly out of an induced coma, but every time they did, he suffered seizures.
Seizures, Nielsen said, are usually a sign that a patient is not going to recover. The family prepared for the worst, but prayed nonetheless.
Connelly woke up a few days later.
Sitting in his hospital room Monday, Connelly conversed with family members and joked with nurses, some who have taken to calling him the "miracle man."
He said his chest aches from the CPR.
"Judging by the way my sternum feels, I'm pretty lucky," he said. "This is all still sinking in, and I think it will be for a long time."
In the 12 days since he awoke, Connelly has suffered muscle spasms ---- some violent ---- that have only recently begun so subside, his wife said.
Loris Connelly said she will always cherish the moment she saw her husband come around.
"When I finally heard the word 'hope,' that's the best word I ever heard," she said.
Family friends set up a "miracle man" trust fund at Wells Fargo Bank to help the Connellys defray the cost of his long hospital stay.
Donations can be made care of Marilyn Cipriani, 1075 Shadowridge Drive. Unit 70, Vista, CA 92081.
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