Until April 14, 2012 fate had been pretty kind to Thane Truax.
Thane Truax grew up in the boom days of Burnsville, in an area of Eagan near the River Hills neighborhood. He and his wife Vicki both graduated from Burnsville High in 1990, where he played on the soccer and hockey teams. Though they knew of each other and had many mutual friends, they didn't really meet until two or three years after high school.
After a stint at Minnesota State University, Mankato Thane went into landscaping when he first got back, then went into home renovations. She had her own cleaning business, then managed a Pier One Imports store and nannied.
Eventually, Thane made a career for himself by flipping homes—taking low-cost fixer-uppers, renovating them and re-selling at a profit.
The two married in 1996, the same year the couple moved to Shakopee, which was just beginning to emerge as a hot spot on the home market. They had two kids, Tristen, now age 12, and Trae, 15.
By all accounts they've had a good life together, living happily in a lovely home overlooking a pond in the outskirts of Shakopee, not far from the rolling corn fields that ring the south end of town.
"We’ve been together every day for almost 20 years now," Vicki said.
In December of 2011, Vicki decided to join Thane in the renovation trade. The work was intensely physical, though it posed no problem to Thane, who had stayed active in sports, coaching a girls hockey team. It was the strenuous nature of the job that attracted Vicki.
"I loved the business. It was like an eight-hour workout," Vicki said. "It was kind of a new adventure."
April 14, 2012
The adventure took a dark turn one peaceful Saturday in April. The two were working on a house in Lakeville, hanging a door, while Thane's mother Pam attended to a task upstairs. It was an uneventful day until Thane suddenly dropped the door, which seemed like a playful gesture in the moment.
"I thought he was joking. I pushed it back at him, and the door went to the side, and I was like 'what are you doing?'" Vicki recalled. "Then I saw him hitting the wall and sliding down."
Thane said nothing. His jaw clamped shut and he began turning blue, then purple. She pulled his mouth open and called for Pam, who rushed downstairs to a an eerily familiar scene. In 1996, her husband suffered a heart attack as well. Pam had some experience in emergency protocol. She'd worked at Valley Fair, which required all employees to train in CPR and mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, but that was 15 years ago.
Though more than a decade had passed, in the moment of crisis Pam's training did not fail her. In all, Pam continuously administered CPR for 10 minutes. The family sees a divine will behind Pam's impressive feat of endurance.
"I just started praying," Pam said. "God gave me the strength to keep a level head, to keep going. I was going to make sure he had a second chance."
"I tell you there was someone watching over her, because until the EMTs got there she did CPR non-stop. That’s what saved his life," Vicki agreed. "They say that every two minutes you have to switch off but she would not stop. God was working through her. She was exhausted and she would not stop."
At last, the ambulance arrived at the end of the large, wooded lot.
A Startling Diagnosis
Within the hour, emergency technicians were rushing Thane was into the Intensive Care Unit at Abbott Northwestern Hospital.
There doctors made a shocking diagnosis: 40-year-old Thane was suffering from coronary artery disease and every vessel in his heart was stopped up with plaque. The Truax family says that in the months leading up to his cardiac arrest there were no indications that Thane was close to death. He worked out regularly and had no notable health problems. Both his cholesterol levels and blood pressure seemed healthy.
"There was no sign that it was coming. It was completely out of the blue," said Vicki. "When we were talking he didn’t look any different to me. Every artery was blocked and he had no symptoms. (The doctors) just couldn’t understand it, couldn’t believe it."
At the time, Thane's cardiologist was not offering a promising outlook. He had a 5 percent chance of survival. He was in surgery 45 minutes after arriving at the hospital. They could only put two stints in, but the medical team at Abbott thought Thane would be a good candidate for a risky new treatment: Thane would be immersed in a coolant, which brought his core body temperature down to 96-degrees Fahrenheit, taking the burden of heating the body off of the ailing heart. The downside is severe brain damage, but the treatment could save Thane's life, the doctors told the family.
Vicki decided to go for it. Thane was in the tank for 38 hours. In spite of the grim circumstances, the Truax family never lost faith.
"I wasn't scared at all. Throughout the whole thing I was confident," said Trae. "I just knew he wouldn't die."
"I just felt he would be OK. I thought, he is not going to leave me with our two kids," Vicki said. "I remember thinking that there was just no way he was going to die."
For over a week, Thane lingered in an induced coma. On the 10th day, he woke up, said hello to his brother-in-law and giggled, true to form, in spite of the tubes in his mouth and nose.
"I knew he was going to be OK," Vicki said.
His unlikely survival earned him a new nickname—the Miracle Man.
An Uphill Climb
After the ordeal, Thane needed to learn all the basics over again—how to speak, walk, and eat. But his lighthearted spirit was not gone: In no time, he was making jokes again, challenging his family members to a wheel chair race.
Nevertheless, the family has learned a hard lesson. Like many of the self-employed, Thane and Vicki have no health insurance. Just two or three weeks before Thane's heart stopped cold the couple brushed off concerns about their lack of health insurance.
"We were like, 'Oh like anything major is ever going to happen to us,' and we laughed about it," Vicki said. "Talk about eating your words. I think so many people our age feel good—you think you’re healthy and you think you’re invincible."
"Don't put your family through this: Get checked," Vicki added.
As a result, the family is struggling with a considerable financial burden in addition to the physical trials of Thane's rehabilitation. Returning to their work is out of the question. Thane's heart is still weak. His constant companion is now a life vest, which will kick start his heart if it fails a second time. He can't safely lift, climb or engage in any hard labor. Solitude is also dangerous. Thane cannot be left alone, which means Vicki must stay close at hand.
In spite of it all, the family remains hopeful.
"We'll figure it out. We don't know what we're going to do, but we can't worry about it," Vicki said. "We've got each other and that's what's important."
They also have a network of faithful friends who have provided aid in the form of a perpetual meal train, visits and most recently, a large-scale benefit at Neisen's in Savage. The event drew about 300 friends and well-wishers.
"It was unbelievable. It was overwhelming," Vicki said on Saturday. "We didn't know he had that many friends."