Karen Smith’s heart stopped seven to eight times a day in September 2020.
The Mount Etna area resident was working as a substitute teacher at Watkins Middle School when she collapsed between lessons.
“All I remember is not feeling good (while) substitute at school,” she explained during a recent interview with The Advocate. “I went to text my husband at 911 and I texted 914. And that’s all I remember.”
She and her family credit the combination of how quickly students sought help, teachers who started CPR and the rapid arrival of emergency personnel – all of which are key parts of the cardiac survival plan. of the West Licking Joint Fire District – his survival.
Increase the odds
Seven years ago, a West Licking JFD resident who suffered sudden cardiac arrest outside of a hospital had a 20% chance of surviving until discharge.
This number, while still double the national average, was not enough for fire district staff and council members.
According to WLJFD Battalion Chief Justin Weaver, their team looked at three years of data, identifying key factors in calls where these patients survived. He explained that national data characterizes sudden cardiac arrest as someone who has a viable, shockable rhythm.
In 2021, the district received 42 cardiac arrest calls. Of these, 21 people had a non-shockable rhythm. Ten were considered surviving patients.
After:West Licking Joint Fire District’s new post arrives on Taylor Rd
“One thing we noticed from all of this data…is that our average response time to cardiac arrest was 5.5 minutes. Response time for those who survived discharge was 4.5 minutes,” Weaver said.
They looked at fire departments across the country to see who had improved the data, sending a member to Seattle who had a 50% survivability from sudden cardiac arrest. They also looked at different types of treatment.
The service listened to the 911 audio of their cardiac arrest calls, reviewed response times, acquired CPR mannequins that tell them the quality of their CPR, and launched quarterly training.
“We saw that we had a lot of gaps in the department where our response times were longer, so our goals were set there: we need to make sure we reach people in less than five minutes,” said WLJFD deputy leader Joe Krouse. . “In 2016 the fire board put the station on Taylor Road to serve this area because we saw that there were slower response times in this area…In 2019 we built the station five in the Mink and Morse Road area because response times were too long for neighborhood liking.
Previously, Krouse said, it took the department an average of eight minutes to reach the Reynoldsburg and Jersey Township areas. Last month, their average response time in these areas was four minutes and 37 seconds.
After:West Licking Fire unveils new Morse Road station
Since those adjustments, Krouse said he’s seen his survivability in cardiac arrest rise to 75%. This year, the team was at 50% survivability.
“This year we noticed there was a big difference and that was because we weren’t getting CPR from bystanders,” he said. “There’s a strong correlation with bystander CPR as part of the chain of survival – activating 911, getting early CPR, getting defibrillation, getting there and continuing whatever we need to do, and getting CPR from good quality.”
“She didn’t have a heartbeat for eight minutes.”
One of Karen Smith’s sons, Tyler Smith, has tearfully recounted the minutes, hours and days following his mother’s heart attack.
When the next group of students entered the computer lab and discovered that she had collapsed, two students immediately called for help. Three teachers took turns performing CPR until EMS arrived a few minutes later.
Once at Mount Carmel East Hospital, Karen was stabilized. Her son said doctors did not yet know she had suffered a heart attack at that time.
“His heart stopped five more times that night. The doctor came in and said that was it, so we unplugged everything,” Tyler said. to put him to sleep. And we said goodbye.”
The family asked a hospital chaplain to pray. Tyler’s brother asked his mom if she was ready. The family was stunned when she appeared to shake her head. He then asked if she was ready to keep fighting, and she shook her head yes.
“She came back. No memory loss. Her heart stopped seven, eight times. At school, it stopped like seven, eight, nine minutes,” Tyler said. Doctors didn’t expect Karen to survive the night, but a few days later she opened her eyes and started to wake up. “Dozens of doctors have evaluated her and they just don’t get it. They’ve never seen anything like it.”
Karen said her only memory of the incident was the times leading up to it and her recovery. She was hospitalized for almost a month and finally six relays were placed, as well as a pacemaker including an integrated defibrillator.
The family attributes its survival to “a chain reaction of everyone doing what they had to do” and quickly, students who reacted instead of freezing, teachers who immediately started performing CPR and having the new fire station so close to the school so EMS could start their rescue efforts sooner.
A few years later, Tyler said, “The miracle of his survival changed our lives.”
“Everyone should know CPR”
Thanks to the efforts of West Licking JFD, residents now have more than double the chance of surviving sudden cardiac arrest than seven years ago.
But the team believes those odds would improve with the help of the community.
“We see this correlation of data when CPR is performed by the bystander and then we take over and continue the care, compared to no CPR performed prior to our arrival and we take over the care,” Krouse said. “We have a reduction in bystander CPR. It’s important that you have the ability to educate yourself, to know how to perform CPR.”
As part of their Cardiac Survival Plan, WLJFD sought to train as many people in the community as possible in CPR, so they trained teachers, high school students, police departments, and the city’s street service.
“The plan basically initiated our direction. The fire board accepted it 100%,” Krouse said. “They realized the importance of this because they approved two additional stations and staffed them. This right has positive effects for the community.”
One thing their data was unable to determine was how many of those they trained in CPR went on to perform CPR on someone else.
According to Krouse, from 2016 to 2021, 20 residents have been discharged from hospital after complete cardiac arrest with little to no deficits — all thanks to their cardiac survival plan.
Karen Smith is among them.
“I feel so blessed. I feel like I’m here for a purpose, to touch someone’s life,” she said. “Everyone should know about CPR. If (these teachers) didn’t, I wouldn’t be here.”
The next step in the WLJFD Cardiac Survival Plan is for as many people as possible to learn CPR.
“We want to encourage people to take this step and learn CPR and have someone else benefit from it,” Krouse said. “And we’ll be there to help them take that step.”
West Licking JFD offers CPR classes in their department, in person, and a hybrid model where people can take their classes online and do the practical part in person.
To register for a CPR course through West Licking JFD, call WLJFD Fire Marshal Fred Hughes at 740-927-3046 or visit their website.
For other options for learning CPR, contact your local fire department or visit the East Central Ohio chapter of the Red Cross website.