Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Wentzville Woman Counts Her Blessings after near Fatal Cardiac Arrest

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Wentzville Woman Counts Her Blessings after near Fatal Cardiac Arrest

Article excerpt

The day was typical for Mary Smith and her husband, Shawn, as they returned from an Augusta wine country trip in August 2009, warm enough for a sundress and a lot of smiles.

They and another couple spent the afternoon on the nice side of normal. Conversation involved taking their children to her dad's land where they could go fishing.

Mary, Shawn and their friends walked into a restaurant for dinner. Mary collapsed. Her heart stopped beating. She'd suffered sudden cardiac arrest, the deadliest form of heart seizure.

But the restaurant had no AED (automated electronic defibrillator). No one knew CPR. The only luck was they were 4 minutes away from an ambulance.

EMTs got her heart working and got her to an emergency room. She stayed at Barnes-Jewish St. Peters Hospital for 21 days, the first five in a medically induced coma.

"When I got out, I was on oxygen; I couldn't walk up the stairs," she said. "My husband just kept telling me, 'We'll get through this.' "

During her stay, they placed an internal defibrillator in her chest. If her heart stopped or showed certain abnormalities, the device would give her a jolt that some describe as akin to being kicked by a mule.

To this day, no one knows what caused the cardiac arrest.

The American Heart Association explains that cardiac arrest and heart attack differ; they're not synonyms.

The difference is that a heart attack happens when the circulation to the heart is blocked. Pieces of the heart deteriorate. People ignore symptoms and may go for hours, even days, without treatment.

A cardiac arrest is an electrical problem. The heart can begin to fire irregularly or stop. The lack of blood to the brain can cause death in minutes. About 400,000 people die annually from sudden cardiac arrest. Men are most prone, by about two to one. When it occurs in hospitals, survival rate is triple that of an occurrence away from a hospital. Survival increases when someone knows CPR or an AED is available.

The Heart Association says the only link is that people who've had heart attacks are more at risk for cardiac arrest. However, cardiac arrest still happens to healthy people, and that still baffles medical experts.

That was the case for Mary Smith. Doctors told her she was lucky to be alive, having endured four minutes without her heart working, which meant no blood to her organs, including her brain.

"They told me I had a 2 percent chance of survival," she said.

But over time, her strength returned. She had some bad dreams about the experience. But in nine weeks, she returned to work.

She considers herself lucky. Her family has adequate health insurance. She and her husband both work good jobs.

"We're blessed," she said. Then she counts the blessings.

First, she lived. That's been said.

Second, the chief physician told her to forget about having any more children. At the time, they had a 3-year-old, Kylie. …

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