When Eden Prairie resident Duane Hookom suffered a heart attack during a community gathering at Nesbitt Preserve Park last month, the quick reflexes of a local woman and emergency personnel helped save his life.
It happened on the evening of June 8 at the dedication ceremony for new playground equipment, a splash pad, and a cricket exhibition at the park.
Molly Menton, who was there with her four-year-old twin boys, helped stop Hookom’s van after he became unconscious behind the wheel. The fire department, present at the event to provide an alternative to the unavailable splash pad with their truck and hose, quickly switched gears and performed lifesaving CPR on him.
“It was my luck that I had fire and police and Molly right there,” said Hookom, a city Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Commission member.
“Karma was pretty good that day,” added Hookom’s wife, Laura.
Hookom underwent a quadruple bypass on June 13 at Fairview Southdale in Edina, returning home on Father’s Day. He started therapy on July 11, and he’s improving faster than expected. He walked three miles last week, and he’s been using a stationary bike at home.
Three weeks after the incident, the Hookoms met Menton over coffee at Smith Coffee & Café to express their gratitude.
“A lot of people thank you,” Hookom said.
Laura added, “My brother in Germany sent a text today: Be sure to thank Molly.”
Menton greeted Hookom, saying, “You’re looking much better.”
“I should hope so,” Hookom said.
Hookom has few memories of the incident. He remembered leaving the event early to celebrate his wife’s birthday with visiting family members. However, the circumstances of his medical emergency remain unclear to him.
Menton was chatting with her neighbors while her kids played in the water. Suddenly, a man on a bicycle started yelling, “Get out of the way.”
“And we looked back and the van was coming at us,” Menton recalled. “The man on the bike said (the driver) fell asleep.”
Menton, however, realized that Hookom wasn’t just asleep. She noticed he was having a medical emergency while still at the wheel. Reacting quickly, she opened the passenger door of the slow-moving van and got inside.
“It was in gear, it was in drive,” Menton said of the van. “But I think whatever happened for you, you did have your foot on the brake. You weren’t pushing the brake, obviously, because you were unconscious. But your foot was still on the brake because I had to move your foot out of the way (with her hand).”
After moving his foot, she put her hand on the brake. When the firefighters arrived, they opened the door and started getting Hookom out.
“They told me I could take my hands off the brake,” Menton said. “I responded with, ‘Put it in park,’ and then I actually put it in park myself. You were bright purple. You were definitely not just asleep. They started performing CPR on you right away; you were barely out of the car at that point.”
Hookom confirmed that he received CPR for about 10 minutes before an ambulance arrived. Laura, his wife, relayed that she was informed Hookom had suffered a “widowmaker,” a term referring to a severe blockage of the left main coronary artery.
“They figured it was 20 minutes between the CPR,” said Laura, who wasn’t present at the event. “He didn’t come to when they gave him the defibrillator. They called it a widowmaker, which was very hard (to hear).”
“That’s what my dad had,” Menton said, adding that her father did survive, too. “My dad had the widowmaker.”
“They said it was a widowmaker and if that situation hadn’t been what it was,” Laura said.
”If you hadn’t been surrounded by 20 firefighters, first aid and paramedics,” Menton added.
“There were like 10,” Hookom said. “I got a list of the 10 firefighters and policemen who were part of the team and of course, (Police) Chief (Matt) Sackett was there.”
“And I was on the phone with (Chief Sackett),” Laura said.
Reflecting on the lifesaving moment
Laura recounted that upon regaining consciousness in the ambulance, Hookom’s first concern was whether he had hit anyone with his van.
“So I must have known that I was moving,” he reflected.
Menton thinks Hookom had been conscious enough to have his foot on the brake of his moving vehicle, preventing a potential accident.
“Your foot was on the brake and it wasn’t pressing, but that’s why I went headfirst,” Menton said. “I had to get your feet out of the way.”
While no one would ever wish for a heart attack, Hookom acknowledged the fortunate circumstances of his situation, given that he was among immediate help when the medical emergency occurred.
Interestingly, the day before his heart attack, Hookom had embarked on a 20-mile solo bike ride, a regular activity for him as he usually clocked 50-60 miles a week.
When Menton asked if he had felt any warning signs, Hookom said he had a “little indigestion on the left side.” Despite the discomfort, he hadn’t considered a heart attack, given his level of physical activity and lack of family history.
His usual biking routine included monitoring his heart rate and recreational riding with different groups of people.
“On those rec rides, on average, I will average maybe 105 beats per minute, which is really, really low,” he said. “And if I’m by myself, I’ll average more like 130 or better. So they’re not hard rides, but they’re 20 miles each time. And sometimes there are donuts in the middle of them.”
“If you were on the bike ride (the day before) when it happened,” Menton pondered.
“If I had the heart attack five minutes later, I would have been on the highway,” Hookom said.
During his heart attack, Hookom saw no “bright lights.” He likened the sensation to the TV show “Stranger Things,” where he felt as though he was being pulled and dragged.
“That’s when I probably started struggling (to wake up),” he said. “It wasn’t my turn. Just wasn’t.”
Menton, vice president of clinical operations for Equip Health, a company that provides virtual eating disorder care, had just returned from a work trip in Boston. Despite her travel fatigue, she took her boys to the event after they pleaded to go.
Hookom speculated that Menton must not have hesitated even for a moment to help him.
“One of the bystander folks said, ‘Wow, you really have fast reflexes,'” she said. “And I was like, ‘Yeah, because I have four-year-old twins. I am constantly stopping them from doing things to harm themselves or others.'”
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