Scott Howell doesn't remember Jan. 25.
As the prominent GOP ad maker later learned from his family, he went to church that morning, then to lunch with his in-laws before settling back at his house in Dallas to watch "Mission Impossible III" with his wife, Julie, and daughter, Madeleine. Then, his heart stopped. For the next three weeks, doctors worked to stabilize Howell after the sudden cardiac arrest that Sunday afternoon.
Howell says he's lucky to be alive. Now, the founder and CEO of Scott Howell & Company — a media firm with a client roster that includes GOP Sens. Lindsey Graham, John Thune and Jerry Moran, national Republican campaign committees, and possibly a 2016 candidate for president — has been back in the office for about a month, employing the same wittiness that's helped land him clients for more than two decades.
"I've always been kind of a smart aleck," Howell told CQ Roll Call in an April 29 phone interview from his Dallas office. "My doctor asked me how I was doing and I told him I was freezing my ass off. And that’s when they started to think, 'He’s probably going to be OK.'"
Less than 10 percent of people survive an episode of sudden cardiac arrest, according to the most recent statistics from the American Heart Association. Even fewer emerge with the same cognitive ability they had before their heart stopped.
"They tested me after [I came out of the coma] and said, 'Your brain is fine.' And I said, 'Yeah, it can't be any worse than it was,'" Howell said.
Howell gives credit to his wife and neighbor, who quickly administered CPR before the paramedics arrived, keeping oxygen flowing to his brain while his heart wasn't pumping. He said he's also grateful for the care he received at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, where he spent 17 days in a medically induced coma.
"The thing that happened to me was a rare anomaly," Howell said. "I didn’t have a heart attack. Unfortunately, my heart just stopped. And they don’t know how to explain the cardiac arrest; they don’t know what causes it."
Support poured in from Capitol Hill and fellow media consultants. Among the first to reach out to Howell were Thune, Graham and Karl Rove, the longtime President George W. Bush political adviser, whom Howell had worked for in the early 1990s.
"I was inundated with phone calls and voicemails," Howell said. "It was really very touching and very humbling to see how many friends you have."
In a phone interview last week, Thune said he was stunned when he learned of Howell's health crisis. The two worked closely on the senator's successful 2004 Senate bid, when he ousted Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, and have remained close.
Howell attended one of Thune's daughter's weddings and made a video montage for the occasion. Thune said he's thrilled Howell is "back in the saddle."
"He’s just got a bigger-than-life personality," Thune said. "He’s a guy who loves life and projects that to the people around him. That makes him fun to be around, and that’s a quality that serves him well."
Howell, who declined to give his age ("I am now in my 50s," he said. "Ugh.") says he's now feeling great. He spent a few weeks in rehab, where they tested his brain function and helped him regain strength in his legs, which had atrophied after being bedridden for nearly a month.
He's also lost weight and is taking measures to keep the pounds off by cutting down his portion sizes.
"I don’t recommend the 17-day coma diet, but I did lose about 40 pounds," Howell said of his slimmer waistline.
Mostly, Howell said he is letting fewer things stress him out on a daily basis.
"I made a commitment that I wasn’t going to let things get to me as much," Howell said. "I'm still a Type A personality. I'm still driven to get things done. But I take it with a little more of a smile on my face and a lot less negativity."
Graham, who has worked with Howell for decades, said his relationship with his media consultant goes beyond a business partnership.
"It’s a personal friendship," Graham told CQ Roll Call. "He comes from my part of the world, and professionally I've known him for a long time. He does a good job, he’s accessible, I trust him, and all I can say is that I am so glad that he is back in the game."
Graham said he's only seen two people bounce back from cardiac arrest, and he's not surprised Howell is one of them.
"Scotty is such a hardworking kind of guy, it’s going to take a near death kind of experience to slow him down a bit," Graham said. "He’s gone from warp speed to just overdrive."
Howell gives credit to his partner, Dan Allen, for keeping the business running smoothly in his absence. He noted the ad firm might not be a free agent for long in the crowded GOP presidential primary field.
"I've had some conversations with folks, so stay tuned," Howell said.
And as for whether he'll ever finish "Mission Impossible III," Howell said, "I have no desire to finish that movie. There may have been some subliminal message in there."
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