By AMERICAN HEART ASSOCIATION NEWS

Tim Byrd

Tanya & Tim Byrd (rear), sons Zach and Austin (front)

Tim Byrd was mentally preparing for a chaotic weekend of helping at his son’s marching band competition and administering a skills test to students in his emergency medical technician’s class.

So when he arrived at work that Friday morning, ready to start his shift as a transport medic at a hospital in Kinston, North Carolina, Byrd was glad to have some down time. Seeing that he had no patients to move, he grabbed a bite to eat and began working on the answer key for his class’s final exam.

“My final exam is always hand-graded. I got to question No. 13, and that’s the last thing I remember,” Byrd said. “I had no warning. I had no sign. It’s just like somebody turned the light switch out.”

Luckily his partner, Steve Johnson was in the room when Byrd became unresponsive. Johnson grabbed the phone and activated the hospital’s emergency response team with the words, “Code Blue.”

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The next thing Byrd remembers is waking up 6½ hours later at a different North Carolina hospital, one with an emergency heart center.

He was told that he’d suffered cardiac arrest, and that all his colleagues fought to keep him alive. His partner performed CPR, a nurse showed up with a defibrillator and a doctor arrived to join the rescue effort. Byrd had been shocked twice before regaining a pulse.

“I was clinically dead for two minutes,” Byrd said.

A cardiologist told Byrd’s family he needed to be transferred immediately, and they called for a helicopter ambulance. As Byrd headed for the flight, a co-worker asked, “Are you coming back to work Monday?” The 47-year-old father of two gave her a thumbs-up.

When the chopper landed, crews rushed Byrd into a room for a cardiac catheterization procedure. This let doctors get an up-close look at how his heart was working. However, they couldn’t turn up any reason why his heart had stopped.

Once Byrd came out of the fog of medication and a breathing tube came out of his throat, he asked his wife, “Did you get the name of the truck that ran over me?”

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Visitors came and went from Byrd’s hospital room the next day. There were heartfelt talks and lighter moments, too, like when Johnson asked, “Did you see the light?”

“No,” Byrd answered. “And I didn’t see a pitchfork either.”

The fun didn’t last long.

At 1:30 a.m. on Sunday, Byrd’s heart went into another abnormal rhythm. Nurses rushed in, performed chest compressions and shocked Byrd with a defibrillator. He couldn’t leave his bed and was attached to a monitor/defibrillator until he underwent surgery four days later.

Doctors implanted a defibrillator in Byrd’s chest. It would detect dangerous abnormal heart rhythms and deliver a shock to restore a normal heartbeat, if needed.

Byrd was finally able to go home, on Oct. 30, his 16th wedding anniversary.

“Everyone calls me lucky,” he said. “My wife calls me a miracle man.”Tim Byrd and wife

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In the months since he’s been home, Byrd has gained a new perspective and is reflecting on what really matters.

Tim Byrd-kids

Byrd’s sons with Kenley Smith, his cousin’s daughter who is close with the family

He is somewhat apprehensive given the inexplicable cause of his heart problem, but he tries to counter that by doing something proactive – like sharing his story.

“CPR saves lives,” he said. “Look at me. I’m an example.”

Nearly 300,000 people die each year because they suffer cardiac arrest outside of a hospital, with 70 percent of those happening at home. A majority of people say they feel helpless to act because they don’t know how to administer CPR or it’s been too long since they learned.

The American Heart Association helped pioneer CPR over 50 years ago, and continues to refine this lifesaving technique. The organization trains more than 15 million people each year in 60-plus countries. Even without formal training, anyone can be a lifesaver by remembering the steps to Hands-Only CPR – call 9-1-1, then push hard and fast in the center of the chest, preferably to the beat of the classic disco song, “Stayin’ Alive” until help arrives. The AHA also encourages states to pass laws to train high school students in CPR before they graduate, putting more potential lifesavers into our communities.

“I’m just trying to spread the word,” Byrd said. “At least make an effort until somebody else gets there.”

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Photos courtesy of Tim Byrd

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Do you know a “Story from the Heart” we should tell?

Send an email to stories@heart.org that’s as brief or as detailed as you’d like.

Previous “Stories from the Heart” include:

A mother’s heartbreaking, heartwarming tale

Stroke at 24 changed her personality – in a good way

‘Reborn’ by a series of procedures, she’s energized to help others