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Elijah’s Story

Heart & Vascular Care
“I feel very lucky that I was at work when this happened. I think about that a lot and am so thankful I was where I needed to be when I needed care.”

Where He Needed to Be

Elijah Stenman has a whole new appreciation for his health. To understand why, you have to go back about a year ago. It was December 4, 2020, and 40-year-old Elijah, a lead cook in Nutrition Services at CentraCare – St. Cloud Hospital, had just finished a shift as a catering associate — a role he was in to help out his team because they were short-staffed due to COVID. That’s when something didn’t feel right.

An unforgettable Friday

Elijah and family“I was supposed to work until 3:15 p.m., and I wasn’t feeling good,” remembers Stenman. “It felt like I was breathing cold air — that kind of sharp cold you feel when you go outside and it’s below zero.” He finished his shift and after clocking out, realized that something was definitely off. So, he went to Employee Health. “The nurse came around the corner and said, ‘Any sort of chest pain and we need to send you to the ER.’”

As it turns, that’s exactly where he needed to be.

“They put an EKG on me right away and when the ER doctor came in, he told me my EKG wasn’t normal,” recalls Stenman. After receiving blood thinners, he started to feel better. Shortly after that he remembers Cardiologist David Miranda, MD, coming into the room and telling him he was having a heart attack and he needed to get to the Cath Lab immediately.

“That’s when it all started to feel really serious,” said Stenman. “After that, I was placed in the ICU, and I remember a team of people coming in. I asked how serious this is on a scale of 1 to 10, and they said, ‘Nine and a half.’” He was told that 90% of people who have the type of blockages he had would not survive.

It turns out he would need a triple bypass heart surgery.

He had open-heart surgery on December 8, 2020. “Following surgery, I completed cardiac rehab and an additional angiogram to fix the radial vein that was taken from my arm, since it didn’t attach to my heart,” he described. Since then, he’s been good to go.

“It’s a little hard to comprehend how close to death I was because I didn’t feel right, but at the same time I didn’t feel really sick,” says Stenman. “I definitely make a conscious effort to find more joy in life now and also try not to take things too seriously.”

He’s also made a few lifestyle changes. “I started walking on my lunch breaks, and now I jog through the neighborhoods around the hospital most days on my break, so I’m doing about a 5K every day,” he says. “And when I cook at home, I avoid fatty foods and use less butters, creams and salt.”

Work family

ElijahHe’s also grateful to all the staff who cared for him. “I work in the Bistro, which is right below the Heart and Vascular Center so a lot of the people who took care of me were actually my customers,” Stenman says with a smile. “The woman who read my EKG comes in for a white chocolate mocha most mornings, and the ER nurse who helped me orders a black coffee almost every morning. And up on second floor, I knew a lot of the team too, so I felt like I already had a relationship with them, and everyone was great. It was a really good experience.”

As he looks back on it all, he considers himself fortunate. “It feels like there was a reason I was working that day,” he says. “Typically, I would have had that Friday off and been at home, so I feel very lucky that I was at work when this happened. I think about that a lot and am so thankful I was where I needed to be when I needed care.”