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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Christmas Bureau: Heart attack doesn’t stop volunteer

After suffering a major heart attack April 1, Greg Timothy and his wife Denise return as Christmas Bureau volunteers. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
After suffering a major heart attack April 1, Greg Timothy and his wife Denise return as Christmas Bureau volunteers. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
By Chelsea Bannach Correspondent

Denise Timothy looks at her husband, knowing he’s lucky to be alive and helping this holiday season with the Christmas Bureau.

Her husband’s return as a volunteer just more than seven months after suffering a debilitating heart attack, she said, is a reflection of his selflessness and his desire to help others.

“He’s willing to give and to go and to do,” she said. “Anything for everybody.”

Greg Timothy is joining Denise as a Christmas Bureau volunteer again this year after recovering from a massive heart attack that could have killed him.

Greg Timothy, 66, recalls not feeling well on an April golf outing with friends at the Hangman Valley Golf Course, when he slumped over in the golf cart. His friend, Dr. Craig Whiting, retired CEO of Rockwood Clinic, performed CPR for 18 minutes until paramedics arrived.

“I had a sudden cardiac arrest,” he said. “A piece of plaque broke off and clogged the main artery to the heart.”

The paramedics immediately administered a shot of adrenaline. “There wasn’t any pulse,” said Timothy, who doesn’t remember much from that day.

They hit him with defibrillator paddles – one, two, three times – and his heart started beating.

He was rushed by ambulance to Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center, where physicians placed a stent in his heart. Ninety minutes had passed from the time he passed out on the golf course to his lying in the recovery room.

Timothy spent the next three weeks recovering at Sacred Heart, followed by two and a half weeks at St. Luke’s Rehabilitation Institute.

“I get a little tired now,” he said. “I was on my back for three weeks. I had to learn how to walk again. It’s been a little bit of a challenge, but, I will say, the care I received here in Spokane was second to none.

“Now I’m back to the Christmas Bureau this year,” he said.

The majority of those who have a heart attack like Timothy’s die, he said, and those who live have damage to their heart or brain in many cases.

“I have none,” he said.

Timothy’s wife, Denise, 63, said the whole experience felt “almost unreal.”

“It seems like something that happened to someone else,” she said.

She had pulled into the driveway at home when she got the call from her husband’s friend at the golf course.

“I turned the car around and went to Sacred Heart and met them at the emergency room,” she said.

Denise Timothy stayed in the hospital until the wee hours of the morning before heading home to try to get some rest. Shortly after getting home, she got a call from hospital staff. They wanted to know how far away she was and how quickly she could return; she knew things had taken a turn for the worse.

“His blood pressure was very low,” she said. “I really didn’t expect him to recover.”

But he did, and by the time their children arrived, Timothy was able to respond by squeezing their hands.

“I really do believe in miracles,” Denise Timothy said.

“He’s great now,” she said. “He got very frustrated during the recovery portion that he wasn’t getting better faster, but we had seen how bad he was, so any improvement was good for us. Every little step he took seemed like a big plus.”

Denise Timothy was the one who got her husband involved in the event. The Christmas Bureau, which provides assistance to thousands in need during the holiday season, relies on volunteer support to distribute gifts, books, grocery store gift certificates and more.

The Christmas Fund, run by The Spokesman-Review, raises money from community donors for the Bureau, which is put on by Catholic Charities Spokane and Volunteers of America.

Denise Timothy said nearly losing her husband has taught her an important lesson.

“If you want to do something, make it happen,” she said.

She and her husband get so much joy out of working at the Christmas Bureau it almost feels selfish, she said.

The couple started volunteering about six years ago and plan to continue for as long they are able.

“I figured I’ve got a while,” Denise Timothy said. “As long as we’re here, and as long as they’ll take us.”

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