April 24, 2010, was a typically busy Saturday for Jill Hisey, then a 44-year-old mother of three active kids in Arcadia, Calif.
She dropped off her 13-year-old daughter, Allie, at a pancake breakfast at 8:15 a.m., headed to a tee-ball game for her 5-year-old son, Jackson, then went to a baseball game for her 10-year-old son, Trent.
While her husband Steve coached Trent’s team from the field, Jill usually sat in the stands. But on this Saturday, she went to the dugout to help Trent adjust his catcher’s gear. All of a sudden, her head started to hurt and she collapsed to the ground.
The rest she had to learn about later.
Jill is featured at the 1:03 mark of this video.
Jill had gone into sudden cardiac arrest and stopped breathing. Trent screamed for help.
An acquaintance, Sue Selinske, and two strangers, Mary “Francy” Lesh and Matthew Breda, rushed to perform CPR while others called 9-1-1. They did so for 4½ minutes until paramedics arrived.
Paramedics used an automated external defibrillator (AED) to shock Jill’s heart back into rhythm four times. At a local hospital, while she was comatose, Jill was given therapeutic hypothermia, a therapy in which the body is cooled to protect the brain and improve survival.
Jill was only the second patient to receive this treatment at that hospital, with the first receiving it only the day before. At the time, it was the only hospital in the area using the procedure, which is recommended by the American Heart Association.
A day later, doctors began to warm Jill’s body back to normal temperature. She also began to respond. It took about a day for her short-term memory to recover. Doctors later credited the hypothermia protocol for preserving her brain function.
“All the stars just aligned,” Jill said.
After she was alert, doctors did an angiogram to look for clues about why Jill, who had never had any risk factors for heart disease, had a sudden cardiac arrest. With no plaque or blockages found, they determined it was an electrical issue (arrhythmia) and implanted a device that acts as a pacemaker and implantable cardioverter defibrillator.
After nine days, Jill went home.
Jill realizes how fortunate she was that Sue, Francy and Matthew were at the ballgame.
Francy lived an hour away and didn’t know Jill or her family. Matthew was a 17-year-old boy who had learned CPR a week earlier as part of lifeguard training.
Initiating CPR immediately is critical when someone suffers a cardiac arrest. The chance of surviving when it happens outside of a hospital is about 10 percent.
Neither Steve, nor the coach of the opposing team had been trained in CPR, something Jill and her family decided to do something about. Working with Methodist Hospital of Southern California, where Jill was treated, the family organized four CPR classes to train 80 area Little League coaches in September 2010, less than five months after Jill’s cardiac arrest.
Jill’s daughter Allie, now 17, also got involved, organizing CPR training as part of earning her Gold Award in the Girl Scouts. Working with Methodist Hospital and the local fire department, Allie organized volunteer trainers and donations from local businesses to train 300 teens in the community in May 2011. The family also worked to get AEDs installed in the local high school. This CPR awareness was supplemented when the local high school installed AEDs.
Doctors still haven’t found a reason for Jill’s cardiac arrest. She didn’t know anyone her age with heart issues and had a lot to learn following her experience. She now sees a cardiologist annually and takes a low dose of blood pressure medication.
Jill still grapples with mixed emotions over her experience, ranging from guilt that she survived when many others don’t to disbelief that it happened to her. Part of her emotional healing comes from continuing her volunteer work. She’s participated on the hospital’s cardiac board, speaks at fundraising events and appears in a thank-you video for the American Heart Association.
She wants people to know that anyone can have a heart problem, and it’s important to be trained in CPR.
“There was nothing I could have done. I already exercised and ate healthy,” she said. “This just underscores how important is to have people who are trained in CPR and not afraid to step forward to help.”
Photos courtesy of Jill Hisey
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