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Man says dogs helped save his life

Gold Hill resident Larry Holm was about to take his dogs on a morning walk when he felt a tightness in his chest that worsened into a crushing sensation.

"I thought, 'Man, I'm having a heart attack,' " said the former teacher who taught in Central Point schools for more than 20 years.

Sweating and feeling increasingly disoriented, Holm managed to dial 9-1-1 and tell the woman who answered he was having a heart attack and where he lived.

As he sat on his house steps, his protective German shepherd Luna and affectionate Labrador retriever Rio grew increasingly agitated.

"My shepherd starting barking like crazy, and my Lab put her head on my shoulder and she started crying," Holm said.

He felt himself drifting away.

"I was going down. I thought, 'OK. I'm going to the other side.' I figured I wouldn't make it," Holm said.

He remembers thinking it wouldn't be such a bad way to die — accompanied by two of his best friends who loved him.

His dogs, however, had other ideas. They both kept urgently licking his face.

"They kept me alert and going," he said. "I credit them with saving my life."

Paramedics were able to rush Holm to Rogue Regional Medical Center in Medford, where a whole team was ready to treat the 68-year-old.

Dr. Todd Kotler, the interventional cardiologist who treated Holm, said speed is crucial in treating heart attack victims. Emergency medical personnel who make a correct heart attack diagnosis in the field are able to alert the hospital in advance so the emergency room, cardiologist and heart catheterization team are ready to go.

Dozens of people are activated to focus on the single task of helping the patient, he said.

"With treatment of heart attacks, the key is to get the blocked coronary artery open again as quickly as possible," Kotler said. "Heart attacks occur when coronary arteries become abruptly closed off. Heart muscle starts dying. The key is to restore blood flow as quickly as possible."

Once blockages are identified, they can be opened with a stent, he said.

Restoring blood flow quickly leads to less damage to the heart muscle and a quicker recovery for the patient, Kotler said.

He said it was fortunate Holm recognized he was having a heart attack.

"He knew exactly what was happening and called 9-1-1," Kotler said.

Holm said he was impressed by the care he received.

"When I got to the hospital, they were lined up and ready to go. They are all top-notch," he said. "They've got it figured out. You can't find a better group from top to bottom."

Holm is now on the mend from his October heart attack after attending a series of cardiac rehabilitation sessions. He said he feels lucky he had the heart attack because doctors discovered he has an aneurysm, or ballooning of a blood vessel. Future surgery will fix the problem before the vessel bursts.

Active his whole life, Holm is back to walking Rio and Luna four mornings a week. One of their favorite places to go is a Gold Hill park that fronts the Rogue River.

He said the pair saved him once before when they were all on a walk and an aggressive, 120-pound dog came barreling toward them. At first Rio and Luna hid behind his legs, but then his German shepherd jumped out and crashed chest-to-chest into the oncoming dog.

The dog grabbed her by the neck, which prompted the Lab to dart out and grab the aggressor's legs. All the animals survived the melee, and Holm was left with a different view of his otherwise gentle pets' personalities.

"It told me these dogs will protect me," he said.

Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-776-4486 or valdous@mailtribune.com. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/VickieAldous.

Larry Holm shares a moment Thursday with his dogs Rio, left, and Luna at the Gold Hill Sports Park. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch