Cardiac Patient Jack Essner

Jack Essner was in the prime of his life when he almost lost it.

It was August 8, 2016, a hot summer day before his senior year of high school. Essner recalled getting halfway through a three-mile run during soccer practice. The next thing he remembers is waking up in a dark room four days later. At age 17, he had suffered cardiac arrest.

Essner collapsed during his run. His coach and teammates first thought he fainted due to the heat. They soon realized it was far more serious when he turned grey and stopped breathing.

Thankfully, one of his teammates, J.P. Chucart, was a lifeguard and began CPR. Chucart and Essner’s coaches kept up the CPR for more than seven minutes until an ambulance arrived and rushed him to Saint Francis Medical Center.

“Everyone told me it was a miracle I survived and an even bigger miracle I did not suffer any significant brain damage,” Essner said.

At Saint Francis, Essner was put in a medically induced coma for three days. He went into cardiac arrest on a Monday, came out of the coma on Friday, had surgery to implant a defibrillator on his heart and was released the following Monday.

The efficient stay “is a testament to the awesome the team at Saint Francis,” Essner said.

Essner considers it a blessing he does not remember those eight days. He does, however, clearly remember the next sixth months.

“I was living on edge,” he said. “My heart was in a state of flux after the original cardiac event.”

The defibrillator was working overtime.

“My heart would do what it wanted when it wanted,” Essner said. “It is no fun when that thing goes off. It hurts and is really scary. You kind of panic because you do not know what to do.”

Eventually, the team at Saint Francis was able to balance his medication dosage to keep Essner’s heart calm.

He credits Steven Joggerst, MD, interventional cardiologist at Cape Cardiology Group, a Saint Francis Medical Partner, with helping him overcome the anxiety over his health. Joggerst gave Essner his cell phone number and said he could call him anytime.

Jack Essner
Jack Essner

“You are okay,” Essner recalls Dr. Joggerst telling him. “Your heart is structurally sound.”

Joggerst was empathetic and able to keep him calm and grounded, Essner recalled. He assured his then-teenage patient the medicine would do its job, telling him, “You are good to just live your normal life.”

“That was definitely a sigh-of-relief for me.” Essner said.

Joggerst vividly recalled Essner’s ordeal. He found remarkable the chance of having bystanders who knew what to do and acted quickly to save his life.

Joggerst found a connection in imagining what Essner’s parents must have been going through.

“I was young in my career and young in my family,” Joggerst said. “My wife and I have a son named Jack who was a toddler at that time.”

It has been almost six years since that day, and Essner’s life has regained a steady rhythm. He still thinks about the ordeal from time to time, but worry does not control his life.

“I have gotten so used to it now that it is not necessarily an inconvenience.”

Essner said it was tough to give up his previous lifestyle, but he has come to terms with it and is grateful. “I used to be an avid runner. My life was pretty much sports,” Essner recalled. He joked that if giving up sports means he gets to keep his life, “that is a trade I will make eleven times out of ten.”

Still an athlete at heart, Essner has found a way to feed that need.

“Golf,” he said. “It is a form of exercise that still keeps my heart rate low. I am slowly getting better. It has been fun because it is something I can dedicate myself to.”

Essner, now a Southeast Missouri State University graduate and personal banker at First Missouri State Bank, is happy to share his experience and eager to raise awareness when it comes to heart health. Just as Dr. Joggerst was able to do so for him, Essner would like to be a source of information to anyone in a similar situation.

“Look me up on Facebook; I would be more than happy to help. Feel free to message me. I will absolutely talk to anybody about it.”

Joggerst said Essner’s grace, kindness and patience throughout this experience stand out most to him. He said Essner “never once conveyed any negativity or self-pity. He continuously expressed gratitude for life and those around him.”

Most of all, Essner is grateful to all the doctors and staff who took care of him.

“Saint Francis was incredible, and they are the reason I am alive today,” he said. “I cannot say enough good things about the Saint Francis Heart Hospital. They are fantastic!”

Story by Danny Walter, Southeast Missourian

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