Young Mother of Five, Saved by Her Husband

Young Mother of Five, Saved by Her Husband

My name is Greta Standish. I am a mother of 5 and I am 39 years old and also 2 ½ years old.

September 2, 2006 was the day my life changed forever. The first part of my story will be told from the recollection of others – the story may be incomplete because my husband, who is a major part in this story does not like to talk about this. It is simply too painful. It is easier for me because I don't remember. I am almost a third party to the entire experience.

We were in Vicksburg, Michigan with my husband's extended family, celebrating Labor Day. I was sitting at my mother-in-laws kitchen table, making peach salsa and talking to my husband's cousins. Mid-sentence, I went stiff. My husband's cousin went to find my husband, Brian, and told him that it looked like I was having a seizure. Brian came over, and found me in the chair with my eyes opened and glazed. I wasn't breathing and had no pulse.

Brian started CPR while my father-in-law ran across the street to get a neighbor who was a doctor. Someone called 911 and the rest of the adults kept the kids downstairs. After what seemed like an eternity (my in-laws live a ways from the fire department) the ambulance came and the paramedics took over. I was shocked 2 times without any success. The third or fourth time, they got a heart beat – a bad one but it was there. 

I was rushed to the hospital, my life still very much in the balance. It was at this point that some miracles occurred. Although it was a holiday weekend, the area's top cardiologist was on duty and oversaw my care. There was another doctor present who had just come back from a conference on cardiac patients and hypothermia. At this point, I had an irregular heartbeat and in a coma, I was put in ICU and my body temperature was kept low to help minimize the brain damage. Although I wasn't conscious, they implanted an ICD to help regulate my heart rate and to shock me in case it happened again.

I was in a coma for several days, and was not responding to any external stimuli. At some point they began to talk to my husband about organ donation. Then, I woke up. The first few days after waking were not good. I was not responding well. When I first woke up, I didn't even know I had children. But as the days went by, I regained more of my mid-term memory. While I am still unable to remember most of the years 2003-2006, I am doing much better.

After a week I went to a rehab center. My memory and balance were better, but not great. By the end of the week I was feeling much better, but still had balance and memory problems and spent a lot of time repeating myself. When I looked back on the notes from rehab, they had mentioned that although I kept asking if I would be okay, they didn't think I would.

Two weeks after my sudden cardiac death, I went back to Johnston, Iowa. We had just moved there a few months previously and I didn't remember moving there, nor did I remember anything about where we had lived previously. Back home I recovered more and more, surrounded by new friends who came from everywhere to help and support us.

So now, 2 ½ years later, how am I doing? 

Pretty well. 

I have very minor brain damage. I can no longer write by hand – when I do, if anyone is talking around me, I write what they say, not what I intended to write. It's like there is a break-down between my brain and my hand. Fortunately, I am still able to type, and can avoid most writing. I have an ICD and will have one for the rest of my life. It is a stark reminder of how close I came to dying, but not one that most people ever see. Other than that, looking and talking to me you would never know what happened – until I tell you my story.

I now tell everyone I can about my story. My family and friends have heard it so much they are TIRED of it. Why do I tell my story? Because I am a woman who is not overweight. I don't smoke, I don't drink. I exercise (okay I don't exactly exercise but I am active) and don't eat all that horribly. I had no warning signs of fainting or heart palpitations.

This could happen to anyone.

Most importantly, I tell my story because CPR SAVED MY LIFE. If my husband and his cousins did not know CPR, I would NOT BE ALIVE TODAY. I tell everyone I meet that CPR is important. You need to know how to do it. If you know CPR, you truly have the power to save a life. It's something small, but the results are big.

My story is a little scary and leaves people with not much to say, but it is a good story – a story of survival.

My hope is to someday help put automatic defibrillators in schools. One of the first things I did when I got back to Iowa was to talk to my children's school nurse about having defibrillators in all the schools. At that time only the high school had one (I think) and the police officers in the area. We talked about how they aren't expensive and save lives. She was able to talk to the school board and now all the schools in the Johnston School District have at least one defibrillator available. Cardiac arrest can affect children and adults a like. It amazes me how something so small can do something so big. It's important that everyone have access to these. Look in almost every store – they have an AED. Now that you see them, you need to learn how to use them. These too, SAVE LIVES.

By learning CPR and how to use an AED, anyone can save someone's life. Everyone needs to know what a heart attack or cardiac arrest look like. Like me, they may not be able to tell you what is wrong. Know how to check a pulse and and airway. Anyone can be a hero – my husband is mine.

Why did this happen to me? I don't know. We still don't know the reason behind my cardiac arrest. I have been shocked by my ICD a few times and I have since been diagnosed with Atrial Fibrillation. It's not life threatening and can be controlled with medication. While being shocked is a less than pleasant experience, I now know what it feels like, and am not scared.

I know that I am back to help in my own small way. If someone hears my story and it moves them to learn CPR or to make sure they know where that AED is in their office or how to use it, I have done my job.

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The mission of the Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA) Foundation is to prevent death and disability from sudden cardiac arrest. The vision of the SCA Foundation is to increase awareness about sudden cardiac arrest and influence attitudinal and behavioral changes that will reduce mortality and morbidity from SCA.

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