Her husband, Billy, convinced her to stay home and do CrossFit with him.
It likely saved her life.
As they worked out in the yard of their home, with their daughters Carlie and Paige riding their scooters nearby, Tawnya suddenly said, “Billy, I don’t feel right.”
She then collapsed onto their car and fell to the driveway.
Billy is a fire battalion chief and thus no stranger to emergencies. He immediately jumped into action.
Knowing that Tawnya has bouts of asthma, he gave her two breaths. When she started turning blue and gray, and her eyes rolled back in her head, he checked for a pulse.
There was none. She was in cardiac arrest.
“So he immediately started CPR,” Tawnya said.
The girls watched in hysterics as Daddy pounded on Mommy’s chest. One of the girls ran to get the phone, which she eventually found in the backyard by the pool. Billy called 9-1-1, doing CPR with one hand and calling with the other.“I think the most traumatic part was that my neighbors, my kids, my husband saw me dead in the driveway,” Tawnya said.
Billy had been doing CPR on Tawnya for about 15 minutes when the paramedics arrived, about five minutes after they were called. They immediately injected medicine into Tawnya’s legs, then hooked up an automated external defibrillator (AED) and shocked her heart.
So they tried again. The second shock got her heart beating again.
On the way to the hospital, Tawnya sat up on the stretcher and spoke. But she wasn’t making any sense.
Six days in the Intensive Care Unit followed. She doesn’t remember any of it. Well, except for one thing – a vivid recollection of dying and being in a peaceful place surrounded by departed loved ones.
“They were the ones who told me, ‘You have to go back, Tawnya. You have two young daughters and your husband who needs you.’”
Doctors performed a bevy of cardiac tests on Tawnya, who has no history of heart disease in her family and had no other risk factors.
She exercised, ate well and wasn’t overweight. When everything came back “perfectly clear,” doctors gave Tawnya an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) to keep track of her heartbeat. If an abnormal rhythm is detected, the device delivers an electric shock to restore a normal heartbeat.
“I nicknamed it Little Billy,” she said. “He’s always there in my chest in case I need him.”
She’s already needed “Little Billy” on three occassions.
On Aug. 7, Tawnya was speaking to 200 staff members of the American Heart Association when she became very dizzy. She excused herself for a moment and remembers getting shocked, which felt like a kick or punch in the chest without the pain. Tawnya called for her husband, then sat down and was shocked a second time.
“They got a real-life visual of what happens, which was crazy,” Tawnya said. “I think it motivated them.”
Two weeks ago, she underwent a test that records the electrical activity and electric pathways of the heart. It showed that she has ventricular tachycardia, a condition that causes a heart to beat more than 100 times per minute. She’s been referred to a specialist, who will advise whether she needs to undergo a procedure or if she can treat it using medicine.
While that is being resolved, Tawnya’s had to make some changes.
Because she’s gone unconscious when stricken by an abnormal heart rhythm, she’s had to quit driving. She’s also taken a leave from her job as a cardiac rehabilitation nurse in Norfolk, Virginia, where she often shared her story with her patients.
“We almost have a bond,” she said. “I think they now see I can see what they’ve been through.”
As a volunteer with the AHA, Tawnya often speaks about the importance of CPR.
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.
“My biggest message is to try to know CPR and try to get defibrillators in large public buildings where people can use them, because it does save lives,” she said. “If my husband had not been there and not known immediate and effective CPR and there wasn’t a defibrillator, I would be dead today.”
Photos courtesy of Tawnya Reynolds
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