In 1992, Donald Vail Jr., on business trip in London, was sitting on a train. Less than a mile back at the station he just departed, an IRA-planted bomb exploded.
In September 2001, he was in the North Tower of the World Trade Center for business meeting when he felt an explosion. He caught the last elevator down and ran through the tower's lower level. He was on a ferry crossing the Hudson River when he saw a plane strike the South Tower.
On December 3rd, 2014, Don again was at work - an early morning phone conference from his home office with his team at Bank of America/Merrill Lynch. He got off the call because he wasn't feeling well. This time the time bomb was his heart.
Don's heart has seen its share of joy and struggle. He and his brothers as boys lived in a foster home for a short period of time. Then he met his wife, Dot, when she was just 13 years old. In 10th grade, he dropped out of school and joined the Navy as Vietnam was coming to an end. He returned from service to marry Dot just days after she graduated high school. Then came his two kids while he worked two manual labor jobs.
"I wanted more," he says. So he began to study electrical and mechanical diagrams, took classes in technology and soon was working on the first IBM computer. His career in IT has now spanned three decades and has taken him all over the world.
On the morning of his heart attack, Don got off his work call and went to lie down. He made it upstairs and then collapsed. Dot heard him fall and called 911.
Easton Emergency Squad arrived and got right to work. Calling 911 can be crucial during a heart attack. Many patients try to drive themselves to the hospital, but time lost in treatment can cause more damage to the heart.
The ambulance crew did crucial pre-hospital work to prepare Don for immediate care upon entering the Easton Hospital Catheterization Lab. Most hospitals aim for the national benchmark of 90 minutes from the moment the ambulance is called until the moment a blocked artery is cleared.
Don had a 100 percent blockage. It was cleared in 24 minutes, thanks to Harnish Chawla, MD, an independent member of the Easton Hospital Medical staff.
"By the time I got dressed, out the door and to the hospital, Don was already in recovery," Dot says.
Don felt good enough that he was discharged the next day.
He did have a second artery cleared about two weeks later, which is common with patients with multiple blockages.
"The staff in the cath lab took great care of me," he says. "They made sure I was comfortable and knew exactly what was happening."
Don had the added benefit of being a minor celebrity. "My mom worked at Easton Hospital for 32 years, so the staff remembered me," he says. "And when my mom visited me, it was like a reunion in my room."
Don has made new friends and family in the cardiac rehabilitation program. They have helped him with nutrition, exercise and anxiety.
Many heart attack survivors experience bouts of anxiety and depression as they fear death and not seeing family again.
"I would worry about losing them," he says. "But the team in cardiac rehab is great to talk with. I really look forward to going there, working out and meeting folks like me."
Don hasn't slowed down either. He still is in the thick of the business world, managing the IT infrastructure that handles billions in daily cash flow. But his home office helps eliminate the stress.
And he devotes considerable energy to his grandchildren. "They are one of many things that make life a real blessing," he says. "I count those blessings every day."
Spoken like a true survivor.
250 South 21st Street
Easton, PA 18042-3892