By CRAIG MURPHY
Of the Keizertimes
Dennis Koho knew he needed to lose some weight and to slow down a bit.
He wasn’t anticipating both to suddenly happen due to a heart attack.
Yet that’s just what happened to the attorney who is also president of the Keizer City Council.
Dennis had a heart attack on Feb. 6 and finally started turning the corner a week later. He was released from Salem Hospital on March 10. Dennis and wife Lori paid the Keizertimes a visit Monday morning after a follow-up visit with his doctor. The next stop was to the Koho and Beatty law office on River Road that Dennis owns.
“I think I understand I need to slow down some,” Dennis said. “I’m probably involved in too many things at once, at too intense of a level. I will have to dial that back some. That will be frustrating. That will be difficult as well. Someone pointed out a while back every organization I’ve been involved with I have become president of. To not do that will be difficult for me, I suspect. I just want to be able to get back to my office and practice law competently. My partner and others will watch what I’m doing.”
Dennis plans to return to the city council at some point to fill out the rest of his term.
Dennis isn’t sure just how much weight he lost, but he does know he’s lost enough that he can wear his wedding ring once again.
“It’s not the preferred way to lose 20 or 30 pounds,” Dennis said with a chuckle. “Last time I was in, my doctor said, ‘Do you remember what you weighed in high school?’ When I told him he said, ‘You have nearly 100 pounds to lose.’”
Dennis had attended the Volcanoes Winter Sports Banquet on Feb. 5, not surprising given his love for baseball and the key role he played in getting the team to Keizer in 1997 while he was mayor.
“The next morning I was having severe chest pains,” Dennis said.
Lori was out shopping at the time and recalled the phone call from her husband.
“I said, ‘How bad is it?’” Lori recounted to Dennis. “You said it was really bad. Then you said, ‘I’m calling 9-1-1.’”
Lori said paramedics with the Keizer Fire District – Dennis gave them high praise – gave her husband several doses of nitro and took him to the hospital.
“I remember arriving at the hospital, but not much after that,” Dennis said. “I had bad chest pain, like a charley horse. I had no pain down the arm. I didn’t have all the classic signs of a heart attack.”
Lori followed the ambulance to the hospital.
“I wasn’t sure how bad it was,” she said. “He’s had the stents put in before, but he’d never had the chest pains before. He’s had shortness of breath, but not the chest pains.”
Lori said things didn’t seem too bad that weekend. She got him some clothes and they watched the Super Bowl with some friends in the hospital room.
“That Monday is when everything started to go downhill,” Lori said. “Dennis became very sick and disoriented. A choice had to be made. The cardiologist had to see where the blockage was. The heart attack had already affected the kidneys. The cardiologist had to look at the heart. Things started spiraling downhill rapidly. For whatever reason, the heart attack also did a number on the kidneys. He also ended up with a brain bleed.”
Family members started asking if they should come.
“I said it’s time for everybody to come,” Lori said.
At one point, Dennis’ daughter was with him when mayor Cathy Clark came to visit.
“I coded out and they brought in a crash cart,” Dennis said. “My daughter didn’t know what to do with company she didn’t know.”
For a while, Dennis had both a feeding tube and a breathing tube as well as a number of medications. Dennis was intubated that Monday night. His kidneys finally started kicking back in the end of that week.
“Apparently I’m going to live,” Dennis quipped.
Due to the amount of sedation and time in intubation, Lori said the chemical balance of the brain had to be readjusted.
“I probably had some weird dreams, if I could remember them,” Dennis said.
Lori quickly discovered her husband’s sense of humor was intact. An early example was when she made the joke Dennis could apply for the U.S. Supreme Court vacancy created by last month’s passing of Antonin Scalia.
“We went several days where he thought he would campaign for the job,” Lori said while rolling her eyes. “It was a little disturbing. His humor came back right away. Once his brother was in. Dennis and his brother didn’t have to talk much. A Cheech and Chong skit comes to mind. They’re both doing this.”
Dennis next got transferred to a neurology trauma floor for a week, where one of the main goals was retraining his throat to swallow after having a breathing tube in for so long.
“The folks on the cardiac care unit were absolutely wonderful, all the doctors and the nurses” Lori said. “It was the most wonderful, wonderful team I’ve ever been around. They were great. They took excellent care of him. They were also supportive of the family and communicated well. They were stunning.”
Lori, who admitted she sobbed at the initial news, noted the difficulty associated with Dennis quickly returning to form.
“It went from absolute relief to now we have to deal with his impatience,” Lori said. “He’s like a caged lion. He wanted to be out of there.”
The Kohos were blown away by the community’s support.
“It was humbling,” Lori said. “The outpouring of support and concern has literally been humbling. You find out how many people care, the number of lives he has impacted. That first 10 days, I don’t know what I would have done without Jerry and Lisa Walker. They were there but out of the way and asked what they could do. They were very calmly there. It was amazing.”
Dennis nodded his head while listening.
“It was wonderful,” he said. “Friends from grade school visited. People I hadn’t seen in 40 or 50 years were here, plus friends in Keizer I see regularly. Humbling is the best word to use. You don’t live your life so people will come out of the woodwork at a time like this, but it’s wonderful when they do.”