Doctor says friends who spotted former Mpls. mayor at park likely saved his life.
Rybak, 58, who left office last week, is recovering nicely from a major heart attack, Dr. Betty Grey said at a news conference Sunday at Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis.
He experienced shortness of breath and chest pains while skiing Saturday at Theodore Wirth park and called his wife. Some friends, who had skied before with Rybak, were also at the park.
“We finished [skiing] right by where he was parked,” said Ed Ryan, a doctor skiing with Scott Gislason. “I looked inside his car and there was a guy with his seat about three-quarters back looking in discomfort. I said ‘Scott, I think that’s R.T.’ Scott said ‘No, that can’t be him’ because he didn’t look like himself. I looked again and knocked on the window and said ‘R.T., what’s going on?’ He said ‘I can’t get my breath. I can’t breathe.’ He was sweating profusely.”
Ryan told Gislason to call 911, although Rybak said to wait a bit. “All three of us are 58 years old and still think we are indestructible,” he said with a smile. He said it was just lucky that he and Gislason had skied an extra loop so they returned to the parking lot when Rybak needed help.
“It was incredibly fortunate that his friends came upon him when they did,” said Rybak’s daughter, Grace, 22.
Grey agreed that the prompt 911 likely saved Rybak’s life, and at least spared his heart from permanent damage.
“If he had waited another 15 minutes … the outcome could have been completely opposite,” Grey said Sunday.
She said paramedics put electrodes on Rybak’s chest which showed irregular heart waves, indicating a heart attack. The data was forwarded to the hospital and a cardiac team prepared for his immediate treatment.
Doctors performed an angioplasty and inserted two stents in his arteries, Grey said.
Rybak reportedly was in great spirits Sunday, joking, tweeting bad heart attack jokes and talking with friends and family, his two children said Sunday at the hospital.
Grace Rybak said her father needs rest to regain strength and “is trying to be pretty boring for a while … That’s not the easiest thing for him to do.”
“Yesterday was scary,” added Rybak’s son, Charlie, 24. He flew home Saturday evening from Washington, D.C., after hearing what had happened. He said he was surprised because his father is very fit and eats healthy foods. Grace Rybak said their dad’s father had heart attacks in his late 50s but that this was their father’s first such incident.
After serving 12 years as mayor, Rybak did not seek re-election to a fourth term in November. He recently became head of Generation Next, a partnership of civic leaders that works to close the achievement gap between white and minority students.
Grey said heart tests on Monday will show the extent of damage, but Rybak is expected to fully recover and be discharged by midweek. He will begin a cardiac rehabilitation program.
Grey said the mayor had taken good care of himself, but his acute heart attack “shows this can still happen though you do everything right.”
On Sunday morning, R.T. Rybak tweeted:
“It’s a great day to be alive. Really.”