Firefighter's life saved after blood infection reveals clogged artery
Firefighter Mike Riding will undergo life-saving open heart surgery after doctors discovered a potentially-deadly artery clog while treating him for an infection
Akron Beacon Journal
RITTMAN, Ohio — Mike Riding is thankful that what started as a bacterial infection from a wound on his foot turned into excruciating back pain and a blood infection that caused heart valve problems.
When the Rittman volunteer firefighter had a heart catheterization at Cleveland Clinic Akron General, doctors discovered one of his arteries was 100 percent blocked.
His type of blockage is often called the "widow maker."
"Just by luck — and I say luck very loosely — I got this infection, which set forth the motion to get all these tests to be done and they find this blockage that could have killed me," said Riding, 41, as he was sitting in his Akron General hospital room on Thursday.
"I wasn't very far away from a heart attack," said Riding, whose nickname is "Tiny," a tongue-in-cheek nod to a time when he wasn't so tiny before he lost some weight.
The infection is healing, but one doctor told the husband and father of two he's lucky it didn't kill him.
"They caught it at the right time," he said.
Riding has been at Akron General for more than two weeks and is scheduled for open-heart surgery on Monday to repair or replace his valve and clear the blockage.
The Rittman community and beyond has been rallying around the Wadsworth native, who has been a Rittman volunteer basic EMT and firefighter for 15 years.
A GoFundMe page set up by his best friend, Rittman Assistant Fire Chief Kyle McDonald, has raised $4,400 in the last nine days. Other fire departments, including Sharon Township and Wadsworth and departments in Texas where former firefighters live, also are raising money.
Donations can also be made at any Huntington Bank branch under Support for Mike "Tiny" Riding.
The Rittman Fire Department is selling 500 tickets for a gun raffle, which would raise $10,000 for a chance to win one of three antique guns. The proceeds from the gun raffle will be split between Riding and a fellow firefighter who's also facing medical issues.
Rittman Fire Chief Don Sweigert said he knows a gun raffle could be controversial, but gun raffles have raised money quickly in the community for good causes. The winner must meet state and federal gun requirements.
There was no question whether to raise money to help their firefighter brother, McDonald said.
"Tiny is really the hub of our department," he said. "He's one of those guys that everybody clings to right away. He's always glowing - he's just got one of those personalities and you never seem him down."
McDonald said it's very tough to see his friend now sitting in a hospital bed.
"First responders aren't the type to lay around and not do anything. He's been stuck in the hospital for two and a half weeks and not doing anything. It's tearing him up inside to lay there and be the helpless one," said McDonald. "We're usually the ones going out and help the ones needing the help and now he's the one needing it."
Riding has had diabetes for about 15 years, but was not under any care for his heart besides some medication for mild high blood pressure. He had some tremendous back pain recently, which was ultimately attributed to bacteria that entered a small foot wound that was taking long to heal due to his diabetes.
Riding ended up being transported to Wooster Community Hospital several times by fellow emergency responders from Rittman.
"I know my people. I know my family at the fire department. I know how good they treat everybody. The level of care they provide, there was absolutely no worry," he said. "But it is odd. I don't like being the center of attention."
McDonald said because all of the firefighters know each other's addresses, their hearts sank when they heard Riding's address on calls.
"It was hard seeing him on the other end of things," said McDonald.
Squads had to come to his house three times, including the last time when his pain was so bad he couldn't walk.
"The best thing about this is I've always had people by my side to get through this. It's a super scary situation," he said.
"I'm 41. Not ready to leave this earth yet. I feel I have a lot more to do before my passing," Riding said. "My biggest thing is the fear of what could have happened if they hadn't found these blockages in my heart."
Riding, whose full-time job is as a fire alarm installer, could go home as soon as next Friday after surgery. But he'll be off work for an unknown time while he recuperates.
Riding is overwhelmed by the community's outpouring of support
"To see that many people that are standing behind me like that, it's amazing," he said as he choked up. "It means a lot. I can't thank everybody enough."
Riding also is thankful his friends and family for caring for his wife, Holly, and his daughters, Mia, 6, and Gabby, 16..
The outpouring of love and support "makes me want to be a better person and help people as much as I can to be a better person.
"People don't have to be the way they are to me," he said. "All these people are stepping up and helping me the way they are. How could someone not have a wonderfully positive outlook on this?"
©2019 the Akron Beacon Journal (Akron, Ohio)