By AMERICAN HEART ASSOCIATION NEWS

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Dec. 17, 2015, began as a festive day.

Lauri Evans hosted a Christmas party at Oakwell Academy, an elementary school she co-founded in College Station, Texas, on the last day before the holiday break.

After escorting a student out of the building to leave early, Lauri was walking back inside with Betty Chambers, the grandmother of another student, when she took a few labored breaths and fell to the ground. The collapse occurred in front of 18 children, including Lauri’s two oldest children — Jacob, now 9, and Audrey, now 7. (She has two other children — Oliver, 4, and Lucy, 2.)

At 33, Lauri’s heart had stopped.

Lauri Evans (right) with Betty Chambers and Chambers' granddaughter Lexi.

Lauri Evans (right) with Betty Chambers and Chambers’ granddaughter Lexi. (Photo courtesy of Lauri Evans)

Betty, a day care center owner who is trained in CPR, administered CPR immediately to Lauri and shouted for someone to call 911.

“I knew she wasn’t breathing,” said Betty, who used her CPR skills for the first time in 25 years. “I’m crying the whole time. She started breathing, but the breath she was making was horrible. I remember my CPR instructor said a gasp is not a good breath and to keep the compressions going.”

Betty continued CPR until paramedics arrived. Lauri’s heart stopped twice, requiring EMTs to shock her heart with a defibrillator at the school and again in the ambulance.

“Everything I’ve learned since then is that [Betty] being there and administering CPR not only saved my life but preserved my quality of life,” Lauri said.

Nearly 90 percent of people who suffer out-of-hospital cardiac arrests die, but CPR, especially if performed in the first few minutes, can double or triple a person’s chance of survival.

Doctors discovered that Lauri’s cardiac arrest had been caused by a heart attack, one that resulted from a spontaneous coronary artery dissection, or a tearing in the coronary artery wall that can cause blood to flow into the artery wall and block the artery. Her left main artery was 99 percent blocked.

Nationwide, cardiovascular diseases affect roughly 44 million women and kill nearly 400,000 women each year.

Doctors told Lauri that it’s not known what causes some SCAD cases. She did not have any underlying diseases or heart risk factors, such as smoking, obesity or high blood pressure.

Lauri doesn’t remember, but her husband Ray told her that in the days between Thanksgiving and her heart attack, she had several instances of lightheadedness and shortness of breath.

“I had been planning to go into my doctor during the [holiday] break because I had not been sleeping well and had been under a lot of stress,” Lauri said. “I just wasn’t feeling like myself. I just didn’t realize.”

After being released from College Station Medical Center on Dec. 30, Lauri signed up herself, her five-person school staff and several parents for CPR training through CPR Brazos Valley.

“It’s the only factor that matters,” CPR Brazos Valley founder Daniel “D.O.” Owens said about CPR. Only 36 percent of people in his four-county area get a return of pulse after having a cardiac arrest and more than half of that is due to CPR, he said.

“Everyone realized CPR saved my life,” Lauri said. “I haven’t had any damage to my heart, and I’m running again.”

Lauri and Ray Evans with their children (from left) Oliver, Lucy, Jacob and Audrey. (Photo by Sarah Best Photography)

Lauri and Ray Evans with their children (from left) Oliver, Lucy, Jacob and Audrey. (Photo by Sarah Best Photography)

This year, Oakwell Academy’s holiday party on Dec. 13 was a true celebration. Lauri attended with three of her children. She also visited nurses at the hospital and plans to stop by the fire station this holiday season.

“I feel amazingly thankful for what I have today,” Lauri said. “For my kids, Christmas could have been the time of year when they lost their mom. For the Oakwell students, it could have been the time they saw someone they love collapse and not recover. But it’s not!”