‘Coloradoans are a different breed’

California man survives U.S. 160 heart attack after passers-by provide help

James Foley, his wife, Tove Aase, and their son, Erik Aase-Foley, discuss the great treatment they received from passers-by as well as the doctors at Mercy Regional Medical Center after a heart attack Foley suffered while driving near Cortez. Enlargephoto

JENNAYE DERGE/Durango Herald

James Foley, his wife, Tove Aase, and their son, Erik Aase-Foley, discuss the great treatment they received from passers-by as well as the doctors at Mercy Regional Medical Center after a heart attack Foley suffered while driving near Cortez.

California native James Foley suffered a heart attack while driving earlier this month near Mesa Verde National Park.

He and his wife, Tove Aase, were returning to Lompoc, California, after visiting family in Colorado Springs for the week.

“We were coming out of the Mesa Verde cliff dwellings and headed toward Cortez when it happened,” Aase said.

She said the only precursor to the heart attack was that Foley noticed a pain around his left shoulder but thought it was just a sprained muscle, so he continued driving.

Aase and Foley were three miles outside Cortez when he suffered the massive heart attack.

“We had just slowed down because we were near the part of the road where the shoulder widened,” Aase said. “His foot then moved away from the gas pedal, and the car slowed down.”

She steered the car to the side of the road from the passenger’s seat.

When the car came to a stop, she immediately got out and started flagging drivers. A man in the first car behind the couple stopped, called 911 and then proceeded to help her get her husband out of the car.

Foley was not breathing.

Once he was out of the car, the good Samaritan began CPR right away.

There also was a woman who stopped to help. She ended up taking over CPR until the ambulance arrived, Aase said.

Neither she nor Foley know who the good Samaritans were. All they know is the man was driving a white pickup, and the woman who stopped was wearing a red shirt.

Other drivers on U.S. Highway 160 also stopped to help in any way they could. Some checked Foley’s pulse and monitored him until the ambulance arrived.

Foley was rushed to Southwest Memorial Hospital in Cortez. He then was taken by Flight for Life to Mercy Regional Medical Center in Durango.

Cardiologist Dr. Frank Torres put a stent in one of his coronary arteries. He spent eight days in the Intensive Care Unit. After the fourth day, he was taken off the ventilator.

“Everybody in the ICU was great,” Aase said. “They really made a big difference – the nurses, the doctors, all of them.”

Sometimes good deeds come full circle. Foley was an emergency medical technician for a portion of the nine years he spent in Germany during his career with the Army. But he downplays his service to others.

“When other people need to be helped, you help them,” he said Friday during an interview in his hospital room at Mercy. “That’s the family I came from.”

He called Mercy one of the finest hospitals he has ever experienced.

“These are really outstanding people to work with, and I would recommend this facility to anyone,” he said. “I have another stent that has to be put in, and this will be the place that I come back to.”

Foley’s family expressed gratitude to Torres, Dr. Michael Dempsey, the nurses who helped and the passers-by who stopped to lend assistance.

“I’m grateful to all of the people who stopped and helped that day,” Foley said. “They could have very well just kept driving by. It shows me that Coloradoans are a different breed.”

He was discharged on Sunday, and on Monday returned home, where his sister Brenda Jurosky says he is working a little and resting a lot.

tferraro@durangoherald.com