Conemaugh's Meyersdale, Johnstown hospitals team to save biker's life
January 30, 2024
It’s a story of life and death, split-second decision-making, horrifying fear and anxiety, superb healthcare, and incomparable kindness. But Maurice LaRoche doesn’t remember a moment of it. Instead, it’s a story that must be told by his wife of 13 years, Diane.
The LaRoches, of Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, were biking along a stretch of the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) when they decided to stop for lunch.
It was a glorious, red-yellow-and-orange splashed day in September when they put down their kickstands alongside a neighborhood restaurant in Meyersdale, a picturesque, rural Pennsylvania town located about 36 miles south of Johnstown and 75 miles southeast of Pittsburgh. It was time for a break after biking for three hours along the spectacular GAP.
After finishing lunch, the adventurous couple mounted their bikes for a 10-mile ride back to their truck.
“Maurice smiled and said he’d meet me atop the hill,” Diane recalls. “The next thing I heard was his bike crash. I turned, saw him on the ground and thought his chain might have dropped.”
But when Diane – a retired intensive care unit (ICU) nurse – returned to her husband, she immediately knew what happened. Maurice – an extremely active and athletic 70-year-old picture of health – had a cardiac arrest.
“I checked his pulse, began screaming I NEED HELP, CARDIAC ARREST, CARDIAC ARREST, CARDIAC ARREST. And I immediately started CPR.”
A young woman ran from a laundromat across the street and helped her to administer CPR. Someone else came out of nowhere to call 911. “The next thing I knew, an ambulance arrived with the absolute best EMS team I’ve ever seen,” said Diane, who is 65 years old.
“They defibrillated and intubated Maurice and rushed him to the nearby tiny Conemaugh-Meyersdale Hospital. It was all a blur. I was left standing alone and confused on the street with two bikes.”
Meanwhile, the owner of the laundromat helped to carry the bikes to her store and locked them up. She then drove Diane to the Conemaugh-Meyersdale hospital emergency department where Diane found Maurice was stable, but sedated, on a ventilator and in critical condition.
“The emergency room treatment was excellent,” Diane said. “The team there was well-prepared and -equipped, fast, thorough and very caring.”
After about two hours, the decision was made to helicopter Maurice to Conemaugh Hospital in Johnstown for intensive cardiac care.
“You have a very good hospital up there in Johnstown. It’s an excellent hospital with a top-quality rating for heart care. It’s a rating that’s very difficult to come by,” she said.
Conemaugh’s physicians determined Maurice suffered a 90% blockage of his left anterior descending coronary artery – commonly referred to as the “widow-maker.”
“They inserted a stent and put Maurice into a medically induced comma to cool his body and preserve the flow of oxygen to his heart, lungs and brain,” Diane said. “The next 48 hours were a horrifying waiting game to see if Maurice would be able to function, talk and live a normal life again. It was the worst two days of our lives.”
Kathy Defrehn, a lab technician at Conemaugh’s heart catheterization lab, “took me by the hands, said everything was going to be all right, and took me to see Maurice, and to talk with his nurse. She also called several hotels in search of a place for me to stay. It was unreal friendliness and hospitality.”
After Maurice was transferred from Conemaugh’s ICU to its Creighton Rehabilitation Center, Kathy would continue calling, texting and meeting Diane throughout the day.
“She’s an angel. She is so loving and caring. You just don’t find that in any other health-care organization. It’s sad, but very true.”
Diane said she experienced that same unique brand of kindness throughout the Conemaugh Health System.
“If I looked at all puzzled or perplexed, somebody – whether a nurse, lab person or someone pushing a broom – would smile and ask if I needed help. It was a very scary time, but those wonderful people pulled me through.”
Today, Maurice is absolutely fine. The couple just finished a hiking-biking trek in Shenandoah, Virginia, and is planning for their next adventure.
“I don’t remember much of anything, but the outcome was great,” says Maurice, looking back over his cardiac-arrest ordeal.
“I received excellent care from the ambulance service. And Conemaugh’s hospital at Meyersdale kept me going,” he said.
“Then after the helicopter flight to Conemaugh’s hospital in Johnstown, the ICU doctors (including Dr. Lou Mastrine and Dr. Usama Habib) provided incredible care and the entire healthcare team made great decisions and delivered top-notch treatment. If not for those excellent professionals, I wouldn’t be here today.”