By AMERICAN HEART ASSOCIATION NEWS
Many things had to go right for Shelley Wyant to survive a cardiac arrest four years ago.
First, she was lucky it didn’t happen 30 minutes earlier.
That day in May 2013 was like any other at the health insurance company where she worked in Flint, Michigan. She went to lunch with a girlfriend at a nearby mall and then came back to the office for a 1 p.m. meeting.
To this day, she has no memory of driving back or the meeting.
“My colleagues tell me we were sitting around a conference table when I grabbed my head and slumped over,” said Wyant.
Fortunately, her coworker Brian Collie had been trained in CPR. He told someone to call 911 and began CPR.
It was also fortunate that Wyant’s office was equipped with an automated external defibrillator, or AED, a device that allows non-medical personnel to “shock” a stopped heart back into rhythm. Another colleague, Michael Swarin, grabbed the AED and shocked Wyant twice before EMS arrived.
At the hospital, she was put on a ventilator and kept in an induced coma as doctors tried to figure out why the heart of an otherwise healthy, 52-year-old woman with no history of cardiac problems would, inexplicably and without warning, stop beating.
“That’s what’s so scary about sudden cardiac arrest,” said Wyant, who has since become an advocate for CPR and AED awareness. She speaks to groups and participates in events that promote CPR training and the placement of AEDs in private offices and public areas.
She said expanding CPR education could save lives and that it’s important to get the word out about the hands-only technique. American Heart Association recommendations call for trained bystanders to perform chest compressions in a sequence of 30 compressions followed by two rescue breaths. But for untrained bystanders, the guidelines recommend compressions only.
Wyant is encouraged that in her home state of Michigan, the governor last December signed into law a bill that requires Michigan high schoolers to learn CPR and how to use an AED before graduation. The law takes effect with the upcoming school year. Similar laws are on the books in more than 30 other states.
“We’ll have 100,000 new people trained in CPR every year,” she said.
Wyant was in the hospital for about two weeks after her cardiac arrest. Once she was brought out of her coma, the doctors did a battery of tests, including a brain MRI and a heart catheterization procedure to try and figure out what had happened. They’ve never been able to give her an answer.
“That’s often the case with sudden cardiac arrest,” said Ronald Coriasso, M.D., her longtime primary care doctor. “It’s frustratingly mysterious why otherwise healthy people die for no apparent reason.”
Wyant said the best description of what happened to her came from a cardiologist who explained that it was like “something came unplugged in my heart.”
Eventually, she was fitted with an implantable cardioverter defibrillator in case her heart ever again enters a dangerous rhythm, but so far she hasn’t been shocked.
“It’s nice to have it as a backup,” she said.
Although her doctors and family were concerned she might suffer long-term cognitive problems, today she’s back to normal both mentally and physically.
She keeps busy chasing after her 1-year-old granddaughter and serving on the board of The Brooksie Way, a local road race where proceeds are used to fund fitness and wellness initiatives.
She realizes every day how lucky she was that so many things went right for her to survive and she feels “truly blessed” that they did.