Survivor Stories

Survivor Stories

This Movie Nearly Had a Bad Ending

Patricia Harris

My story begins on April 1, 2010. I had spent the day with my grandaughter.

We had gone to the movies and out to lunch and had a nice day. That afternoon, right after my daughter left with my granddaughter, I started feeling dizzy and short of breath.

I called my husband and told him I needed to see a doctor. He happened to be right around the corner and was there to pick me up in minutes. He took me to Alamance Hospital. He said I walked in the door and told the receptionist that I was going to pass out but I do not remember going to the hospital. They got me a wheelchair and took me back while my husband moved the car. When he came back in they took him to a room and soon the chaplain can in.

A College Student’s Story of Survival

Paula Opheim Milliner, Indianapolis, IN – 20 at time of event (2004)

Paula OpheimFor most college students facing their 21st birthday, plans for celebration and exciting thoughts for experiencing new places and people are the common theme. Unfortunately in my case, thoughts of survival and whether I was ever going to maintain a normal lifestyle at 20 were at the forefront of my contemplations. At the age of 15, I was diagnosed with Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy, a disease that is rare to most, but commonly runs in my family. Like most young teenagers I didn’t really think anything of it or that it would actually have a significant effect on my life. Surely, it wouldn’t put me in the hospital until I was in the 60’s.

Circle of Life That Nearly Wasn’t

Liz Pearlman, Aurora, IL – 20 at time of event (2009)

Liz Pearlman What would you like for your 21st birthday? How about a wearable defibrillator? Liz had to wear one for three months, think of a bullet-proof vest, add a battery and you get the idea. Why would she need or even want that?

A few weeks earlier, she had been practicing for the varsity basketball team and doing a “circle of life” sprinting exercise to earn her jersey. She had five seconds to go and suffered a cardiac arrest.

“I was on my back and Terry Smith [the athletic trainer] said ‘Get up!’ Then he saw my eyes roll into the back of my head. He immediately started CPR,” Liz said. “And, he called for an ambulance and an AED, which we had right outside our gym.”

It Takes a Team to Save a Life

Ronald P. Danner, PhD, University Park, PA – 72 at time of event (2012)

Daria Oller, Alison Krajewski, Ron DannerIt was right after noon on Good Friday, April 13, 2012, in University Park, PA. Daria Oller, DPT, ATC, PT, CSCS, a PhD Candidate in Kinesiology - Athletic Training and Sports Medicine at Penn State, and Alison Krajewski, MS, ATC, Athletic Training Instructor, were in their academic offices when a squash instructor came running, asking for help. Someone had collapsed on the nearby squash courts. The instructor had already called 9-1-1, but he knew the athletic trainers could help.

Oller rushed to the victim’s side and Krajewski followed with a breathing mask. The 72-year-old man had been down for about five minutes. There was no normal breathing, no pulse, and his skin was “a deep shade of purple.”

Running into Trouble

Paula Opheim Milliner*, Indianapolis, IN – 20 at time of event (2004)

Paula Milliner

How do you tell a fit, healthy, athletic teenager they cannot play sport? You explain how they might die.

“When I was 16 I got diagnosed with a heart condition, called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy [HCM]. It’s a genetic disorder, and they told me I couldn’t play any competitive sports,” Paula said carefully. “They said there is a very minor chance of sudden death, well, it happens to—like—to one percent of people!”

Master Swimmers Don't Die…

Brian Duffield, Tucson, AZ – 40 at time of event (2006)

Brian Duffield

Brian is a member of a US Masters Swimmer group. There are about 40 of them in Tucson that get together regularly and swim their hearts out at the University of Arizona pool. On this particular Tuesday morning Brian nearly did! About half way into the session he didn’t feel at all well, and got out of the pool with an unusual fatigue. He decided to finish for the day and shower. That was when his chin hit the floor. He doesn’t know anything about it as he was unconscious at the time. Luckily, a young man witnessed the fall and raised the alarm.

Floods & Mudslides Teaching the Importance of First-Responders

Leigh McGown Kauffman, Glenwood Springs, CO – 41 at time of event (2011) The Kauffman Family

It happened suddenly, as Vtac does, at 11:00pm on Wednesday night.

Serena noticed it happening, I ran upstairs, found her grey and unresponsive, and started CPR immediately, while Serena and Rhiannon called 911. I continued CPR for around 13 minutes (documented by the emergency call to ambulance arrival time) until EMS arrived.

I Have an Avenue to Tell My Story that Most People Don't

Susan Koeppen, Pittsburgh, PA – 39 at time of event (2011)

Susan KoeppenAs a news anchor on Pittsburgh’s KDKA TV, Susan Koeppen is used to reporting the news. But on November 20, 2011, she made news when she suffered sudden cardiac death near her home in Pittsburgh’s Shadyside neighborhood.

A Nightmare For Thanksgiving?

Kathie Reilly, Flagstaff, AZ – 33 at time of event (2008)

Kathie Reilly What started as a normal Tuesday evening became a nightmare before the night was out. Kathie and her husband went to bed, watched bit of FoodNetwork TV and chatted about the day. Around 10:30 pm Scott woke to an odd sound. Kathie doesn’t snore, but she was making strange noises, and yet she appeared asleep. She did not seem conscious at all, and wasn't breathing. As a Flagstaff Sheriff’s deputy he was trained as a first-responder, so he tried a sternum rub to wake Kathie up—to no effect.

Fillling My Own Cup First

Anne Jennison, Lee, NH – 55 at time of event (2010)

Anne Jennison It was exam time, a stressful period for teachers as well as students. Anne had survived the 50-minute commute and was in her second class of the morning when she died. She was sitting at her desk while the high school freshmen finished their tests. Her face hit the table top and a couple of alert students rushed over to stop Anne from falling off her chair. They could see she was not conscious.

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