GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado - Glenwood Springs isn't just the most fun town in the country and the ideal spot for a shoulder season getaway. It also appears to be one of the safest places to suffer a heart attack.
Crawford Best, 72, a professional bassoonist, lifelong runner and peak-bagger, survived an unexpected heart attack that struck while he was in the Glenwood Hot Springs Pool, thanks to quick work by pool lifeguards with CPR and a defibrillator, followed by expert care at Valley View and St. Mary's hospitals.
"All those people saved my life. There are no two ways about it," the Santa Fe, N.M., man said Friday, after taking his daily post-operative half-mile walk as he recuperates at his son's home in Denver.
"To me it was truly amazing that I was so lucky, because 99 percent of the time I am not in those circumstances, and I couldn't have gotten that help. If I'd been driving, or on Quandary Peak, I wouldn't have made it," he said.
As it was, Best and his friend Carole Whitney of Denver were wading through the Hot Springs Pool after swimming laps, shortly after 5 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 29.
"My vision was funny, and Carole says I said something, and then I don't remember anything until I was being helped onto the gurney and being wheeled into the ambulance," he recalled.
In between were several tense minutes when no one knew what the outcome might be.
Whitney said Best went underwater, and at first she thought he was clearing his ears.
"But when my internal alarm sounded, I pulled him up and he was unconscious," she recalled in an email sent to friends and family.
Whitney cried for help, and the pool's lifeguards kicked into gear, recalled Travis Newcomb, assistant pool manager.
"Ali jumped in and made the rescue. She pulled him out, and we activated our emergency plan," Newcomb said, referring to lifeguard Alicia Whiteside. "All the lifeguards went into action."
While lifeguard Luke Johnson called 911, Newcomb grabbed the pool's automated external defibrillator (AED) and ran to the lodge side of the pool. By the time he got there, lifeguard Brianne Jones was already performing rescue breathing on Best. A doctor who was at the pool at the time performed the chest compressions, and a nurse assisted.
"They went through a cycle of CPR, and then we made sure everything was dry and ready, and got the AED hooked up," Newcomb said. Best had a pulse, but it was wildly irregular - just the circumstance the AED is made for. The team applied the shock treatment twice and the device successfully corrected Best's heart rhythm.
"He took some breaths, he became conscious, and pretty soon he could answer questions correctly," Newcomb said. Best actually sat up while the Glenwood Springs Fire Department's emergency medical technicians were rolling in the gurney.
By this time, all eyes at the pool were on the dramatic life-and-death action.
"We were trying to block the scene, but it's pretty out in the open," Newcomb said. "Everybody could see what was happening. When he came to and was wide awake, then everybody clapped.
"It was pretty incredible to see, somebody who passed away, and he came back to life in front of us," Newcomb added.
This was his second time to use the AED in a real-life situation, and it has worked both times, Newcomb said.
Best was out of the pool and breathing, but he was still in plenty of hot water.
Once he arrived at the Valley View Hospital emergency room, Dr. Steven Heilbrunn's angiogram revealed that two of Best's four main heart arteries were 99 percent blocked, while the other two were 60 to 70 percent blocked.
This was stunning news regarding a man who routinely runs three miles and does 50 to 70 push-ups and sit-ups a day, climbed a 14er this summer, has a low resting pulse and low blood pressure, and was pronounced by his doctor earlier this year as "one of the healthiest people in my practice."
The blockage was so extreme, Whitney said, that Heilbrunn and his team elected to airlift Best to St. Mary's Hospital in Grand Junction rather than risk the extra time and elevation gain of a flight to Denver.
"By 8:30 p.m. he was on the helicopter, and he went into surgery at 11 p.m.," Whitney said.
The quadruple bypass surgery took four and a half hours, and was led by cardiothoracic surgeon Dr. James Narrod and anesthesiologist Dr. Peter Robbiano.
After getting a call, Best's son, Dr. Alan Best, a neuroradiologist, and daughter-in-law, Dr. Flora Waples, an emergency room doctor, drove over from their home in Denver, met up with Whitney in Glenwood Springs, and continued west to Grand Junction.
"At 9:30 the next morning, we were in his room talking to him," Whitney said. "He was sitting up and we were having an alert and interesting conversation."
Best spent two days in intensive care at St. Mary's, and was discharged on Wednesday. He plans to spend the rest of November recuperating at his son's home in Denver.
In an email message to friends of the family, Alan Best wrote, "All in all, Dad is extremely lucky to have had this event in the circumstances in which it occurred: in a public location with a heart defibrillator on-site and people trained to use it, a hospital with heart catheterization facilities nearby, and surgeons on-call and able to work at 11 p.m. on a Saturday night."
Alan Best said his father is expected to make a full recovery and dive back into his active life.
"Crawford forewarns all of his hiking partners that he expects to be two to three times faster with his new coronary arteries, once he is fully recovered," Alan Best added in his email message.
Crawford Best, who spent 36 summers as the bassoonist and personnel director for the Santa Fe Opera Orchestra and winters as the bassoonist with the Minnesota Orchestra and later the New Orleans Symphony, has been semi-retired since 2006.
Over the past five years he has performed as a substitute bassoonist with orchestras from Maine to Hawaii. On Friday, he said he canceled a mid-November gig, but he plans to be playing again for performances with the Santa Fe Pro Musica Chamber Orchestra set for Dec. 27-31.
Editor's note: The Best family is still seeking the identities of the doctor and nurse who assisted the Hot Springs Pool staff with CPR. Those individuals can step forward by calling the Post Independent newsroom tip line at 384-9122.