Nolen on the mend following cardiac arrest

On Saturday, Oct. 17, Mike Nolen of North Fork headed out to take a seven or eight mile jaunt on his bicycle. After four hours, his wife, Judy, and daughter, Jill, were worried and were headed out the door to search for him.

The phone rang just as they were leaving. The caller said they were from the emergency department at St. Agnes Hospital.

Judy was asked if she knew a “Mike Nolen.” She responded, “Yes.” The caller said her husband was okay and that he had experienced a cardiac arrest. “I’m on my way,” she said.

Nolen, now home and back to work, experienced the cardiac arrest, falling unconscious on the side of Road 221 while riding his bicycle about a quarter mile from The Bass Fork Minit Mart.

Driving by, Veronica Aguilar saw Nolen on the ground, knew something was wrong, and immediately started flagging down cars.

Greg Johnson and another passerby stopped and administered CPR. In less than two minutes, firefighters from the nearby Cal Fire Rancheria Station responded to the call. An Automated External Defibrillator (AED) was used to assess Nolen’s cardiac arrhythmia and to allow the heart to reestablish an effective rhythm.

Sierra Ambulance assisted with IV medications and managed his airway. CHP and Engine 11 provided assistance and the road was shut down in preparation for Nolen’s medical evacuation by helicopter to St. Agnes.

“There were people who knew me in the line of traffic created when emergency medical services blocked the road,” Nolen said. However, none of them were close enough to identify him.

“I had ID in my helmet,” Nolen continued. “There was a phone number on a sticky note I had taped in there.” However, emergency services personnel did not find that ID and Nolen was treated as a John Doe until the phone call made to his wife.

Nolen believes hospital personnel went through the alphabet looking for acknowledgment from him when they mentioned a letter in his name and that is how they identified him.

The week before his cardiac arrest, Nolen had ridden his bicycle to work, a 20-minute, five-mile commute. But he had not felt well.

“I couldn’t breathe right, I felt almost nauseous,” he said. He experienced a tightness in his lower throat and upper chest area. “It was off-setting enough for me to drive to work the rest of the week.”

Nolen spent two days in the ICU undergoing an angiogram revealing a 99% blockage of his Left Anterior Descending (LAD) artery, a blockage known as “the widow maker,” Nolen said. A stent was placed to open the artery and the following day he was released from the hospital.

Since the incident, Nolen has received numerous suggestions for carrying emergency medical information, including one to tape an outdated but accurate driver’s license to the handlebars of his bicycle.

“I support public education for those who are active, out on a walk, or a bike ride to carry identification. You never know what can happen even during routine exercise,” Nolen said.

Rick Garner, owner of Yosemite Bicycle and Sport in Oakhurst and a friend of Nolen’s, carries an old driver’s license in a cycling jersey pocket or in a micro-sized wallet. He wears a medical ID bracelet with a bar code scannable by a QR code reader.

One drawback, Garner said, is that the emergency medical information must be accessed through the manufacturer. Garner said there is also an ID bracelet where a portion of it plugs into a USB port allowing medical personnel to immediately read emergency medical information.

“Many people stopped to help me but only two knew CPR until EMS arrived. The non-CPR responders were helpful to be sure. Someone had to notice my plight ... make the first assessment ... call 911 ... had to flag down others. I wouldn’t want to take anything away from their effort and sincerity to help me. And as I understand it, I was breathing at first but by the time I stopped breathing, a CPR-qualified person had arrived,” Nolen said.

Some “70% of Americans may feel helpless to act during a cardiac emergency because they either do not know how to administer CPR or their training has significantly lapsed,” according to the American Heart Association.

Nolen is known to many as the chief organizer of the Grizzly Century bike ride. This year would have marked the 23rd ride. The ride was canceled due to unhealthy smoky conditions, the product of three major fires in the area, and because many of the volunteers for the event work for the Forest Service and were fighting fires.

Nolen is also a U.S. Forest Service employee. He works as a forester and is in a charge of a crew involved with reforestation and timber stand improvement.