Retired Marin County orthodontist Julian “Jule” Lifschiz, DDS, woke up on July 12, 2018, in a cold sweat, feeling dizzy and having difficulty breathing. His wife, Sue, called 911, and he was rushed to the emergency department at Sutter Santa Rosa Regional Hospital, where he was attended to by Sutter Pacific Medical Foundation cardiologist Jaime Molden, M.D., and his team.
I have never had a patient flatline for more than a minute and fully recover.
“I’m told I flatlined for over a minute—legally dead,” Jule says. “Before losing consciousness, I counted the emergency team pacing my heart more than 50 times, as I was suffering from electrical failure. Later I learned they continued pacing for more than five minutes.”
Specifically, Jule was experiencing an atrioventricular block, a type of heart attack commonly caused by degenerative changes in the wiring from the atrium to the ventricle, where calcification and fibrotic tissue can slow the heartbeat or stop it entirely. In Jule’s case, the impulse to make a new heartbeat was intact, but the wiring to deliver that impulse was damaged or blocked, keeping his heart from beating.
As Dr. Molden and his colleagues worked on Jule, they provided surface electrical stimulation through his body to his heart and rushed him into surgery to implant a pacemaker. “I am routinely called by the emergency department and other cardiologists to care for patients with slow heart rates who need a pacemaker,” Dr. Molden says. “I have never had a patient flatline for more than a minute and fully recover like Jule did. I don’t think I will ever see that again in my career.”
Although emergency medicine teams know how to pace the heart externally, they don’t need to do it very often. “And it doesn’t always work because the pacing might not be powerful enough to reach the heart from the skin surface with all patients,” Dr. Molden explains. “It is fortuitous that Jule is in such great shape because the surface pacing worked well.”
An Active, Adventurous Life
Jule was an avid cyclist and doubles tennis player well into his 70s. Even into his 80s, his own health was never the focus of his family’s attention. Sue is a breast cancer survivor, and she and the couple’s two adult daughters are living with Parkinson’s disease.
“Parkinson’s has been the overriding medical issue in our lives,” Jule says. “The fact that I have been able to fully recover from this heart attack has changed our priorities a bit. It has focused us on organizing our finances to support the advancement of healthcare, which our family needs much more than material things.”
Jule and Sue met at the University of California, Berkeley and have been married for 62 years. Jule admits the secret to his success is his wife, calling her a “super package.” Fluent in Spanish with a law degree and a master’s in library and information sciences, Sue left a teaching position at the UC Berkeley law school to become a librarian. Meanwhile, Jule spent four decades building his orthodontic practice in Marin. For 27 years, the couple lived in Hawaii for half of the year.
Jule and Sue shun many material things, instead valuing experiences, and one of their greatest passions is fine dining. They loved bicycling through Europe, carefully planning their itineraries to visit Michelin-starred restaurants between 50-mile rides. Everything they carried was packed strategically to fit into their bike bags and not exceed 21 pounds.
“The food in France is mind-blowing,” Jule says. “Our all-time favorite is Domaine Les Crayères. The three-star Michelin rating is well deserved, but no matter the rating, these dining experiences are incredible.”
As avid foodies, the couple is heartbroken by the toll COVID-19 is taking on restaurants near their home in Santa Rosa. Now every time they order a takeout meal, they donate an equivalent amount to the Redwood Empire Food Bank.
Paying It Forward
Ever since their life changed swiftly in 2018, Jule and Sue have rented a small house in Santa Rosa and no longer own their home in Hawaii. “After I literally came back from the dead, we sold our house on the Big Island within two weeks,” Jule says. “Sue and I had carefully curated that house and owned some nice stuff, but our priorities changed, so we sold everything and walked away from it. Our lives are full and our desire is moderate, so we are committed to giving back to the organizations and communities we love.”
Jule spends time each day considering how he can do something good for others, and he is forever grateful for the Sutter Health care team that saved his life. So when he learned that the cardiology department at Sutter Santa Rosa Regional Hospital was planning an expansion to further elevate the level of cardiac care offered to the community, he was eager to help.
“Our entire department is so touched by Jule and his gratitude and desire to play a leadership role in improving care at our hospital,” Dr. Molden says. “I’ve heard him tell his story several times, and it makes me shiver. His generosity fills me with emotion. We are honored to have made an impact on his life and are grateful that he is helping us bring even more advances to the community.”
Jule wouldn’t have it any other way. “I have given and pledged a significant amount toward this worthy project,” he says. “I know that I am alive today only due to the skills of the Sutter Health cardiology department, and I cannot think of a better way to express my eternal gratitude.”