For Joel Woods, 39, ranching and farming have always been important aspects of his life. He worked a full-time job as a mechanic at Talen Energy in Colstrip during the week, but looked forward to spending weekends on his farm with his two daughters.
When he had a massive heart attack in early November 2019, the enjoyable agricultural life that he lived took a drastic turn.
Woods had been burying underground waterline on his eastern Montana farm and decided to call it quits for the day.
“I decided to take a shower, and when I hopped out, I felt the most excruciating pain that I had ever experienced,” he said.
When he realized that something was not right, he immediately sought medical attention; the next thing he knew, he was being resuscitated.
Woods was shocked with a defibrillator a total of five times and had CPR performed for 26 minutes. It all seemed like a dream and certainly did not seem plausible that he had a heart attack. His dad had a heart attack at a young age, but Joel’s health screenings always came back great.
“I had health screenings every single year at work and my numbers always came back really good,” he said. “This was totally a surprise and came out of nowhere.”
After he was resuscitated, he was taken to St. Vincent Healthcare in Billings to receive further treatment. There, it was determined that he indeed had a heart attack and was treated with the placement of two stents.
“I knew I was in good hands when I was in Billings,” Joel said. “I was so fortunate to even be alive.”
Following his treatment in Billings, Joel returned home and started cardiac rehabilitation at Holy Rosary Healthcare, a process that has been quite eye-opening for him. As a former collegiate football player, he had never had any experience in the hospital setting and had never even broken a bone.
“I had never really been in the hospital before,” he said. “I had my tonsils and wisdom teeth taken out, but never anything like this.”
Joel has brought his disciplined mindset and determination to Holy Rosary and will not settle until he is back to his healthy self.
“To farm and ranch for the rest of my life, I have to get better -- that’s all there is to it,” he said.
Woods attends cardiac rehabilitation three times a week, working with Diane Moeller, a cardiac rehabilitation specialist and Registered Nurse at Holy Rosary.
“I was pretty grouchy to start out with,” Woods joked. “But when I came in and started working with Diane, she helped me understand what I can and can’t do.”
Diane has been an associate at Holy Rosary for nine years and has helped hundreds of patients during their recovery process. For her, Joel is a standout and she is confident he will make a full recovery.
“I try to develop great relationships with my patients and learn their stories,” Moeller said. “Joel has been an extremely hard worker and genuinely wants this recovery. The sky is the limit.”
This month, Joel will be undergoing an echocardiogram, which will measure the functionality of his heart. Following his heart attack in November, his heart functionality was at 17% ejection fraction, whereas it is normally 50-60% and high of 70%. His initial chance of survival was 2%, but he has persevered, continues to beat the odds, and is hopeful to return to work in the near future.
According to the American Heart Association, every 40 seconds, someone in the United States has a heart attack. Knowing the signs can be crucial, but similar to Joel’s case, the signs are not always noticeable.
If you have not had a checkup recently, restarting or establishing care with a primary care provider is key to monitoring heart issues and making a plan to improve cardiac health.
“I am glad to be here and so grateful to be alive,” he said. “Thank you to my friends and family for being by my side through all of this.”
For more information about cardiac rehabilitation, contact Holy Rosary Healthcare at 406-233-2600.