By AMERICAN HEART ASSOCIATION NEWS

Brittany WilliamsThe time between Thanksgiving and New Year’s creates a vibrant scene in New York City, and Brittany Williams and her family were soaking it up last December.

On the first Saturday of the month, they spent the day shopping and enjoying holiday decorations. That night, these folks from Tallahassee, Florida, wanted to watch their beloved Florida State Seminoles play in the ACC championship football game. So they found a sports bar in Times Square.

Shortly after settling into their seats, Williams slumped down in her chair. Her dad and a friend of his helped her to the floor and yelled for help.

What could possibly be happening to this 24-year-old, a workout warrior who was in great shape?

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Brandon Johnson and Nick Farber also were both at the bar. And they were both optometry residents. Yet they didn’t know each other.

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Brandon Johnson (left) and Nick Farber, with Brittany

When they saw what was happening, both jumped into action.

They checked for a pulse and found none. Then they took turns doing chest compressions and administering mouth-to-mouth resuscitation until paramedics arrived.

The paramedics used an automated external defibrillator (AED) to shock her heart back into rhythm and took her to Mount Sinai St. Luke’s Hospital.

Williams awoke the next day, disoriented and sore.

“My chest was bruised, so I thought maybe I’d been in a car accident,” she said.

She has only vague recollections of what happened after arriving at the restaurant.

“I remember everything being dark and hearing my parents saying, ‘Don’t leave us Brittany,’” she said.

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MRI and CT scans showed Williams’ heart was healthy. An EKG uncovered the source of the problem: she has Long Q-T syndrome, a genetic heart defect that can cause dangerous arrhythmias in response to certain medications, exercise or stress.

Doctors aren’t sure which of those triggered her episode. To hopefully avoid anything like it from happening again, she received an implantable defibrillator that will shock her heart back into a safe rhythm if needed.

Williams was diagnosed in middle school with mitral valve prolapse (MVP), a condition in which the two valve flaps of don’t close smoothly, allowing some blood to leak backward, potentially causing a heart murmur or abnormal heart rhythm. Doctors told Williams they didn’t believe her MVP triggered the cardiac arrest.

Williams now takes a beta blocker and has made modifications to lower her stress levels, quitting one of her two part-time jobs as she recovers. She still works out, but is careful not to overdo it.

“I still get worn out going up stairs,” she said.

Williams said she had a difficult time adjusting to her new facts of life.

“For the first few months, I was scared to do anything that might set it off,” she said. “It really got to me, but I just told myself that I got a second chance at life and that I needed to just look forward and be thankful I’m here today.”

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Since 2008, Congress has designated the first week of June as national CPR & AED Awareness Week. All month, there’s added emphasis to teach more people how to become a lifesaver.

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 16 million people in CPR, First Aid  or Advanced Life Support programs each year in more than 100 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.

Williams and her family recently became trained to perform CPR and use an AED.

“If those doctors hadn’t done CPR, then I wouldn’t be here,” Williams said. “If anything happens to someone near me, I want to be ready to do CPR.”

Williams shared her story at the 2015 Heart Ball in Tallahassee in March and will be an ambassador for her local Heart Walk in November.

On May 20, she returned to New York for the 21st Annual FDNY Second Chance Brunch, which reunites cardiac arrest survivors and those who saved their life.

Williams got to thank Johnson and Farber, as well as all the other first responders – the EMS team and firefighters who’d also come to her aid.

“Attending the Second Chance Brunch was very emotional,” she said. “It is an experience that I will never forget. I will be forever grateful to them and the city of New York. I also want to thank FDNY for making it all possible. New York will always hold a special place in my heart!”

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Brittany and her lifesavers

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Photos courtesy of Brittany Williams

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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:

At 11, she’s on her 4th pacemaker; and that’s only part of her story

CPR-giver becomes recipient, hopes others learn from his example

A mother’s heartbreaking, heartwarming tale