Two cardiac arrests left Florida Keys man almost paralyzed, saved at Ryder Trauma at Jackson South and Lynn Rehabilitation Center

By: Krysten Brenlla

Doug Allen, 69, loved playing music. When he was not performing at different gigs across the Florida Keys, he and his wife, Sheila Allen, lived a quiet life on the beach with their dog.

However, from one moment to the next, Doug’s peaceful life changed forever.

“After walking our dog, I came home feeling a little tired,” he said. “I told Sheila I was going to lay down. I started feeling this sudden pain in my chest – I knew right away what it was.”

When Doug tried to stand up, his legs gave out. Sheila immediately called 911.

“I ended up staying in bed until emergency medical services (EMS) arrived,” Doug said. “They put me in a chair and got me out the door. After that, things get a little fuzzy for me.”

As EMS was transporting Doug to Ryder Trauma Center at Jackson South, he suffered a cardiac arrest.

“When Doug lost the use of his legs and fell right to the ground, I knew it was really serious,” Sheila said. “At that moment, I knew life was going to be different.”

EMS did everything they could to resuscitate him, and by the time Doug arrived at Ryder Trauma, his heart started beating again. However, he suffered another cardiac arrest while being treated by Ryder Trauma staff.

“All I remember was coming out of the second cardiac arrest at Jackson South,” Doug said. “I was grateful to be alive.”

The emergency team ensured Doug was responsive, and then evaluated him to find the cause of the cardiac arrests. They diagnosed him with an aortic dissection, a tear in the inner layer of the aorta – the main artery that delivers blood from the heart to the body. Doug was then rushed to the catheterization lab for an emergency stent insertion to repair the tear.

Because of the aortic dissection, he also suffered from a spinal stroke. It caused Doug to lose all function in his spinal cord nerves, which led to the loss of feeling in his legs.

After the procedure, Doug was transferred to Jackson Memorial Hospital, where he spent two weeks recovering. Once he was discharged, he was transferred to Christine E. Lynn Rehabilitation Center for The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis at UHealth/Jackson Memorial.

“When I first saw Doug, he presented as a non-traumatic spinal cord injury patient and was suffering from foot drop, which means it was difficult for him to lift the front part of his foot. He was basically paralyzed,” said Ashley Wilcock, a physical therapist at Lynn Rehabilitation Center. “He required total assistance to do functional tasks, like getting in and out of bed, using the bathroom, and transferring from one surface to another.”

While mobility was Doug’s biggest challenge, he drastically improved after just one week of physical and occupational therapy.
“We initially started with full body weight support exercises, specifically using the ZeroG and Rifton machines to help support his weight while he attempted to walk,” Wilcock said. “Once Doug improved his standing stability, balance, and strength, we then transitioned to walking with a rolling walker. We also trained him to walk with an ankle brace to support his foot and prevent his toes from dragging while he walked. He was a super motivated and positive guy, and he did everything he could to get better.”

After two weeks of hard work at Lynn Rehabilitation Center, Doug progressed from walking short distances to tolerating longer distances with less assistance. He also reached a major milestone – just one day before discharge, Doug climbed up and down 22 steps – a task that was nearly impossible for him to do.

“To get into our home, I have to climb 22 stairs, and I knew I wanted to conquer that before being discharged,” he said. “It was a real challenge. There were times I didn’t think I could do it, but Ashley and my entire family really brought out my determination to keep going.”
Today, Doug is back at home and is able to move with his ankle brace. He’s looking forward to starting outpatient rehabilitation therapy soon, so he can continue strengthening his muscles with a goal of walking back on stage, on his own, to play music again.

He’s grateful to the entire Jackson and Lynn Rehabilitation Center staff for saving his life, and giving him the chance to live it at its full potential.

“Everyone was so professional and inspiring,” Doug said. “They made you feel like you could talk to them and trust them – it was excellent care the entire time.”