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Life Changes When Your Husband’s Heart Stops
Wednesday, December 12th started out like any typical morning in our home. John was readying for a meeting with a client as I was preparing for a holiday brunch meeting with my ladies club. The evening before we discovered that our meetings were being held in the same building at the Lake Club. John rushed around the house gathering all of his necessary equipment and materials. I made him stop to watch a funny, uplifting video. We kissed each other goodbye as John turned to me and said “Stop into my meeting when you arrive at the Lake Club later to say hello. I’ll text you the details of where my meeting room is.” He sprinted out the door and I finished getting ready. My friends would soon arrive and we would all go together to the brunch.
As my friends and I pulled into the parking lot I received John’s text that he was in a meeting room right at the front door. As we entered the Lake Club it was a frenzy of holiday cheer. We were greeted by Santa Claus, Mrs. Claus, The Grinch, festive music and more. I laughed out loud because just beyond all of this I could see a large paper sign on a door that read “Meeting in Progress”. Immediately I knew that this was where John and his client Jay were. I tapped on the window, John smiled and waved me inside. Even now I am so glad that we had this moment. I knew his client as I had met he and his wife before. After a few minutes I kissed John again and re-joined my friends. Soon our holiday brunch with 125+ other ladies was underway.
A couple of hours later, as our group was happily singing Christmas carols, I was approached by the president of our ladies club and asked to follow her. She said that my husband had an emergency and needed me. Knowing that he was down the hall, I thought that John was going to tell me something about my father (sorry dad). Nothing could have prepared me for the scene that I was about to enter into.
As I walked into John’s meeting room, the reel inside my head began playing in slow-motion. My precious husband was spread out on the floor. Furniture had been moved back against the wall. His shirt and sweater vest had been cut open. Someone was performing CPR on him. There was an AED machine(automated external defibrillator) attached to his torso. An airbag was inside his mouth. The man performing CPR shouted out “C’mon John!” and I sprang into action.
I asked his client and friend Jay to tell me exactly what had happened. He explained that during their 2+ hour long meeting everything had been perfectly fine. No signs of distress, illness, pain, nothing. Jay said that John went to his briefcase for a calculator, sat back down at their table and froze. Jay called out his name and when he touched John, his arms came down to his sides and he had no pulse or heartbeat. Jay ran for help and I assured him that he had done all of the right things. Thankfully and unbeknownst to me the Lake Club employees are CPR trained and they have an AED machine. EMS arrived on the scene.
As I looked around the room my mind registered that the space was full of people that were all men that were strangers to me. Two of them asked me if there was anything that I needed. I immediately requested that they retrieve my friend Darlene from the brunch. She is one of my besties and she is a nurse. I needed reassurance and a familiar face – although in retrospect I hate that I brought Darlene into the same hell that I was currently in.
I ran to John’s head and began smoothing his hair and rubbing his forehead. His eyes were open and devoid of color. I told him that I loved him…that he was strong and brave…that he could breath and get his heartbeat and pulse back. All while the man with the name tag “Scott” was diligently doing CPR on my man…my person…my love. If you have never seen real CPR being done on someone – it is very hard work – and Scott was working extremely hard.Then I heard the AED machine begin to speak that it was getting ready to jolt John – and Scott gently looked at me and said “don’t touch him right now – wait just a minute”. Let me tell you – you have no idea what it’s like to have a bolt of lightning zap your loved one. I hope that you never have to experience it. At the same time I logically knew that this was a potential life-saving measure but it was still gut-wrenching to see. I then resumed soothing John and telling him to fight for his life – to breathe and to keep being strong and brave. Just then EMT’s arrived and asked me to move so that they could further help my husband.
An EMT began asking me questions in rapid fire succession – what’s your husband’s name, birthdate, any allergies (no), medications (no), insurance card, advance directive? Reality was quickly setting in for me. I asked out loud “how long has he been down like this”? No one in the room made eye-contact with me or would even look my way. I yelled out the question a second time. The only person to meet my gaze was the guy Scott that was performing CPR and he said “11 minutes”. At this point I realized John was truly in for the fight of his life. By now John was jolted by the AED 3 times.
More people/strangers were filling the room. Police, security and God only knows who else. For the first time I heard talk of helicopter transport to a hospital over an hour away.
Again, someone asked me what they could do for me. Where is my friend Darlene? The two people from earlier never came back with her. Friend and client Jay said “Please,tell me where she is and I’ll go and get her”. True to his word – he brought her back within a couple of minutes. I yelled at a police officer because he wasn’t going to allow her access into the room. It’s amazing the strength and voice you have when you are protecting the love of your life. Darlene was just as shocked as I was to see John laying on the ground, but she quickly sprang into nurse-mode and friend-mode and came to my rescue.
Scott was the sole performer of CPR and he was drenched in sweat. He was doing an amazing job and everyone encouraged him to keep going. Darlene informed me that John’s oxygen level read-out was very good, even though he wasn’t breathing on his own. John still had no pulse or heartbeat. When an EMT asked Scott for an update I truly tamped down panic. 20 minutes, 5 shocks. They were getting ready to give up – they were all looking at each other. Then an EMT said he felt a light pulse. Immediately Scott started compressions again. I don’t know for how many more minutes he continued.The head EMT said that he felt a pulse and that John was breathing.
A team of paramedics arrived. They asked questions of Scott, the EMT’s and me. I kept asking why he wasn’t being transported. Darlene explained that John needed to be stabilized before they took the risk. For me, this process seemed to take forever.
Arrangements were made by the police and paramedics for a medical helicopter to land near the golf course. Meanwhile, lifesaving efforts were still being made to stabilize John to ready him for the trip. He never regained consciousness. Soon we were alerted that there had been another emergency and the helicopter would not be available. We would now travel by ambulance to our local hospital for further stabilization before being transported to an emergency hospital.
Darlene took action and asked the police to cordone off the area for privacy. She knew that the ladies club meeting would soon be ending and didn’t want a large crowd gathering and staring into the room. She informed the rest of our dear friends – my Posse, my Squad of what was going on.
John was being moved onto a gurney. Lots of wires were being inserted into his arm. Meanwhile, I informed an EMT who informed a paramedic that I was riding in the ambulance. I overheard the paramedic tell the EMT “no way”. This paramedic quickly learned who she was dealing with! I marched right up to her and said “YES, I am riding in the ambulance!” and proceeded outside to await John being rolled out. It seemed like an eternity for them to get John into the back of the ambulance, hooked up to machines and systems checked. I kept searching for any signs of consciousness – but there were none.
My Posse was ready to roll and follow the ambulance to the hospital. Finally we pulled out, sirens blaring making our way to the emergency room of St. Mary’s Good Samaritan, our local hospital. I already knew that this hospital would be our first stop as they are not prepared for emergent cases. They are however very capable of giving initial, necessary care and preparing patients for the next stop. The ambulance driver did an excellent job of informing me of exactly what was going to happen the moment we arrived at the hospital which was just a couple of miles away.
John was immediately taken into an examining bay and I was escorted to an office room to get paperwork started. When the paperwork was complete it was the first time I actually started to breakdown. My Posse – Darlene, Linda and Susie were right by my side. We were taken to a private waiting area where I was assured they would come to get me the moment that they knew something about John. True to their word, within minutes I was called to the back.
Holding my breath, I waited to hear from the doctor results of tests that she had ordered. John had a definite “heart episode” and they need further testing. I was allowed to go into John’s room…all I wanted to do was see him…see that he was still alive. Now John had even more tubes, wires, medicines and drip bags. He also had large ice packs placed around his body. It was explained to me that this was to help preserve neurologic health. At the time I didn’t even question it.
Again, since John was so critical it was thought best that a medical helicopter transport was best. After much discussion it was learned that whatever earlier emergency had happened was keeping the helicopter away for at least 4 more hours. The hospital that we needed to travel to was 1.25 hours away by vehicle. I made the decision that we needed to go by ambulance immediately – I felt that we couldn’t afford to wait any longer. I also prayed I was making the right decision. Arrangements were quickly made for transport.
Suddenly everything seemed to be moving at warp speed now. I ran back out to the waiting room to inform my Posse of the updates.The room had grown with even more loving friends. I was overcome with emotion. Everyone offered to help in anyway that I needed, and I knew that they all meant it. I gave John’s car keys to his beloved Mustang to his bestie Chris to drive home from the Lake Club. My car keys were given to Linda in case I needed it at the hospital in Athens. I quickly hugged everyone and ran back to the emergency room.
I called my brother Glenn for moral support. He was in shock, as was everyone. He told me he would call everybody, except our dad, and that he was on his way to the Athens hospital.
Now the hard part…I had to call Jennifer. My heart hurt even thinking about how I was going to tell her. I tried to be brave and as factual as possible. I also needed her to know that this was very serious. She too thought that I was calling to tell her something about her grandpa. I held it together until I told her that “dad was down for over 20 minutes, this is very serious”. Jenn said “I’m on my way”. I begged her not to drive herself, but she’s stubborn like her momma and did so anyway.
The emergency team taking us to St. Mary’s Hospital in Athens introduced themselves as John and MiMi. Somehow I was comforted by the fact that the man taking care of my husband in the back had the same name. Ambulance #2 pulled away from Hospital #1 as I hoped and prayed as I never have before. I was surprised that there were no lights and sirens this time. MiMi explained that since we live in the country and we travel on two lane roads, sometimes the lights and sirens can cause more problems. We prepared for the 1+ hour trip.
Sitting up front I had a full video view of what was going on in the back at all times. Much to my surprise, my husband began to thrash around a great deal. 10 minutes into the trip Paramedic John told MiMi to pull over to the side of the road. I could hear Paramedic John on the phone with the hospital ordering meds and he seemed very confident and in control. He opened the barrier window between the back and front of the ambulance to explain to me that my husband’s condition was not worsening, but he felt that it was imperative that we get to the hospital more quickly. He and MiMi gave each other a signal and lights and sirens were blaring. So much for confusion on back country roads (which was a problem BTW) I wondered how some folks got their drivers licenses. MiMi could probably take on Dale Earnheardt Jr. any day of the week – she was that good of a driver and I was so impressed. What normally would have been about a 50 minute drive from where we were she accomplished in 25!
Upon arriving at Hospital #2 things happened very quickly. Literally Jenn called and said she was already there! She must have flown like a demon. We were greeted by a critical care team. They quickly explained who they were and the initial tests they were going to run and my John was ushered away. We were taken to a waiting room and they promised they wouldn’t forget about us. Next, my brother Glenn arrived.
Within minutes a Critical Cardiac Care Team came to speak with Jenn and I. They stated that time was of the essence. They were taking John to do a heart catheterization to check for blockages and/or blood clots. If there were blockages they were prepared to inserts stents if necessary. Off they went.
In short order the Critical Cardiac Care Team came back to report to Jenn and I.
John has a pristine heart! No blockages. No clots. He suffered Sudden Cardiac Arrest. This is not a heart attack. Sudden cardiac arrest means just that – the heart quits beating. John’s heart quit beating due to an electrical misfire. To be clear – my husband is very healthy. He eats right, works out, walks, plays golf. He’s a yoga master.He has always had a low heart rate and low blood pressure. He’s only 60 years old! Several years ago he had an issue brought on by stress. After 6 months he was dismissed from cardiology care. Again – he has a pristine heart. So how did he suffer sudden cardiac arrest?
Now it was explained to Jenn and I what was going to happen next.
- John would be placed in ICU
- He would be put in a purposeful hypothermic frozen state. This has been proven effective to preserve neurologic function.
- He would also be placed in a paralytic state to keep him calm and unaware.
- Intubated with limited amount of oxygen as he seemed to breathing well on his own.
- Numerous intravenous meds
- After 24 to 36 hours of constant monitoring they would then begin to slowly warm John up. This would be the indicator of his recovery.
- If he could follow simple commands before being fully exubated.
- Fully exubate and test.
Nothing is more nerve wrecking than sitting in an ICU room, listening to multiple machines and monitors hooked up to a loved one. Worse yet, trying to evaluate and decipher the information these machines, codes and beeps are sending out.
Jenn and I each had multiple streams of text chains going with family, friends and John’s work colleagues and professional groups. Prayer chains were making there way around the world.
Jenn and I agree that John had the BEST care in St. Mary’s. We always felt informed, included and up-to-date with treatment, changes, etc. The first night we were highly encouraged to go home as there were a lot of medical staff in the room. We were given a special phone number and code to use during the night to call anytime that we wanted to. It was comforting to know that our nurse Donald answered on the first ring at 11:30 PM and at 2:00 AM to give a full report.
Jenn and I were back in the car early in the morning for the 1.25 hour drive to the hospital. Our daytime nurse RJ reported John had a good night and we settled into his ICU room for the day. My sweet sister-in-law Janice visited and brought us lunch. Our dear friends Linda and Chris came and brought a much needed blanket for Jenn and I as John’s room was freezing cold. My brother Gary arrived bringing his wonderful comic relief.
I decided that I wanted to spend the night as I knew the warming period would start sometime during the night. Donald was again the night-time nurse and he kept me informed every step of the way. John’s heart raced at 2:00 AM and alarms blasted. A team came in and determined meds needed to be adjusted. At the 3:00 AM mark John began thrashing. I was assured that this was a very good sign, but at the same time it was worrisome. He looked uncomfortable and mad. They put John in restraints for fear that he was going to pull his intubation tube. This made him more agitated. I was asked to soothe John to keep him calm. This routine went on for several hours. Medications were being changed every half hour – warming him up, bringing him a little conscious and then a little less aware. His heart would race, so meds had to be adjusted. Then he would be in a deep sedated state and would have to be brought back up.
When Jenn arrived in the morning she was surprised how active her dad was. She began to assist with the soothing and calming. At one point John was thrashing his restrained hands against the side of the bed. I yelled “John Jeffrey, you have to calm down!” Jennifer laughed and said – “Oh my gosh did you see the look he gave you?” It was the first real signs of hope that we had. My brother Glenn arrived at this point too. It was great to have more support.
Specialists were coming in and out of his ICU room throughout the day. Our favorite nurse RJ was giving John simple commands and he was complying – give me a thumbs-up, move your right foot, squeeze my hand. By 3:30 PM a pulmonologist was called in to test John’s oxygen level in his blood and to test his breathing levels. This was the final determination for completing the warming process and removing the breathing tube. The pulmonologist gave the all-systems-go. Jenn and I were on pins and needles.
John was extubated and he was fully breathing on his own. The critical care doctor was giving John detailed information – letting him know that he was in the hospital. That he should whisper because his throat would hurt and his voice would be raspy. The she told him she was going to give him commands to follow and if he understood to shake his head yes – and he did. In the room you could hear a pin drop. John followed all of her prompts.
Then John began to speak “what happened?” “what day is it?” I was a puddle of tears to say the least.
By 4:00 PM they were giving John ice chips. At 4:30 PM he could have a glass of water. Since he could tolerate all of that our nurse RJ said that John could have dinner. I was thinking clear broth. His tray arrived at 5:00 PM with ground beef, mashed potatoes and gravy, pears, carrots and chocolate pudding! John insisted on feeding himself – I was petrified that he would choke. With shaky hands he tasted the ground beef first. When I asked him how it tasted, he said “like Alpo”. Jenn, Glenn and I burst out laughing and so did John. None of us knew where this answer came from, but it was the first sign of relief that any of us had had in days. Amazingly, the next morning he didn’t even remember any of these events.
John’s voice was raspy and a bit raw. He kept asking some of the same questions over and over which we were warned was to be expected. What day was it? What time was it? What happened? John wanted to re-hash the events over and over. We were told to tell him whatever he wanted to know. He had know recollection of what happened to him – thank God. He has lost some short-term memory events. At first he was missing events since Thanksgiving. Now he is only missing about 4-5 days worth of information.
He had a defibrillator inserted in his chest. God forbid his heart stops again the defibrillator will shock it back into rhythm. His biggest complaint was how much his chest and back hurt. This was from the great CPR that Scott performed on him. We can’t wait to meet this marvelous man. He literally saved John’s life. John and I hope to meet him later this week.
Miraculously John spent less than one week in the hospital.
So much was in alignment on the day of this event. If John were home or anywhere else for that matter, we would not have had the same outcome. Because John had me visit his meeting room, his client Jay knew where to find me that day. John’s meetings typically take place in another location, but on this date that location was not available. Because he was at the Lake Club, Scott was there, CPR trained and very familiar with the AED machine. Everyone has said he gave excellent CPR and John is living proof.
I did not know until the day we checked out of the hospital that only 3% survive what John went through. Blissfully I was unaware of this statistic. I have always known my husband is a fighter and now he is living proof. Not many people can say that they were dead for over 20 minutes and then came back to life. Very remarkable. It took a lot of swift action, trained personnel, medical staff, love and prayer for this result.
Needless to say, I haven’t let him out of my sight. I’m not sure when I will be able to. I feel like I have suffered a lot too. Jenn was my steady rock the entire time and I could not have made it through without her. Our friends and family have been an amazing support too. We love you all more than you will ever know.
We deemed this our Best Christmas Ever, because it was. We didn’t need or want for anything else. John was our Christmas Miracle. By brother Glenn and sister-in-law Janice had shirts made for John:
Christmas was definitely extra-special this year!
It was wonderful to celebrate our miracle!
We just want to create special moments whenever we can with whoever we can.
Life for us will be kinder and gentler. No more wishing away time. We’ll leave our Christmas decor up as long as we want. We will make people a priority – not things.
We will slow down. We will make time for the people in our lives that matter most. We will be sure to tell people that we love them.
MORE importantly…we will be learning CPR!! We highly encourage everyone else to learn it too. Someone’s life depends on it!
Today John and I were able to meet the man that literally saved his life, Scott Cowdrey. Without Scott’s heroic efforts,quick actions and knowledge of CPR this would not have been a positive outcome. Words alone cannot express this moment. Thank you Scott for being our angel on earth.