Tracey Conway – Seattle, WA – 38 at the time of the event (January 21, 1995)
It is not unusual for celebrities who suffer a health crisis to become an advocate to promote the awareness, research and management of that disease or condition. Lance Armstrong uses his fame as a cyclist to help find a cure for the cancer that devastated him a decade ago; actor Parkinson’s Disease victim Michael J. Fox is campaigning for stem cell research in the hope that it will lead to the cure and prevention of that disease, and the late Christopher Reeve championed that same research as a possible answer to the crippling paralysis he suffered in a spill from a horse.
Add to that list Emmy award-winning actress and comedienne Tracey Conway of Seattle who on January 21, 1995 suffered cardiac arrest at the age of 38 on the set of her sketch comedy show “Almost Live.” The show ran for years in the Pacific Northwest before being picked up by cable channel Comedy Central for nationwide broadcasting.
“We were still standing (on the set, after the final skit) and taking questions from the audience when I collapsed,” Tracey said in a recent telephone interview from Seattle, where she still makes her home.
Volunteer firefighters administered CPR right away and six minutes later, Tracey was given the first of six shocks with an Automated External Defibrillator (AED). Although Tracey says that she was conscious and talking to friends and relatives after one day, she admits that “I was out of it for four days.”
After having an internal defibrillator implanted, Tracey went back to “Almost Live” until it was cancelled in 1999.
By that time, the actress had had numerous invitations to speak about her experience and the part that an AED played in her rescue after her heart stopped on that soundstage as a live studio audience watched in horror.
“I was approached quickly to start telling my story,” she said.
So, after the demise of “Almost Live,” Tracey had the idea to put her experience to work in a new career, one that would help save the lives of others who suffered sudden cardiac arrest. She decided to become a full-time advocate for the placement of AEDs in all public places while still acting part-time. Now she does about 30 speaking engagements a year for community groups, hospitals and local organizations, and her easy rapport with an audience, her sincerity and her wit has made her a favorite on the American Heart Association’s speaking circuit.
From making people laugh to making people aware, Tracey Conway makes a difference.
– A. J. Caliendo