The Day I Woke Up to a Real ‘Life’ Medical Emergency

The Day I Woke Up to a Real ‘Life’ Medical Emergency

The Day I Woke Up to a Real ‘Life’ Medical Emergency
by Connie Hansen
On the morning of July 4th, while vacationing in Ludington, MI. with family and friends (at a resort with cabins on Hamlin Lake), I woke to my husband Mark gasping for air. I knew something was very wrong but not sure what was happening. I could not get him to wake up, a seizure perhaps? Seconds later I ran to the nearest cabin to instruct our friend Heather to dial 911, her husband Eric (an Air Force Medic) races back with me to find Mark now on the floor face down in a fetal like position, hardly breathing. Eric rolls Mark his back and straightens him out as best he could. Mark stops breathing. Eric initiates mouth to mouth. Seconds later my brother-in-law Erik (same name) darts in the room (news traveled fast). Erik is a Police officer/Medic/Fireman.
Erik checks for a pulse…no pulse…he initiates chest compressions. Erik and Eric continue CPR for 20-30 minutes until medics arrive. Medics take over… several shocks… no pulse. By the time Mark is ambulanced to Ludington General Hospital, he had received 6 shocks total…no pulse. Mark was down for over an hour before he was intubated and stabilized at Ludington General Hospital. They initiated a protocol for hypothermia and he was airlifted to Butterworth Hospital in Grand Rapids.
The heart team in Grand Rapids worked on him, connecting him to all sorts of fluids and monitors. At this point we waited to see if Mark would survive this ordeal still being Mark. On Day 2 in ICU Mark communicates via hand squeezes, hours later he was taken off the ventilator and began talking. The last thing Mark remembers is going to bed the night of July 3rd. He has no recollection of what happened. By Day 3 he was sitting up in a chair. The heart team installed a biventricular defibrillator with a pacemaker feature on Day 5. Then home on Day 6.
On Day 11 Mark was admitted back into the hospital (St. Johns Main Detroit). His hemoglobin was 3.6 because he was bleeding internally thus needed a blood transfusion (six units total). Upper GI found nothing, and we still don’t know where the bleeding was coming from. Whatever it was it healed on its own.
Notably, you would never know by looking and talking with Mark, that just one month ago, he had no vital signs of life for over an hour! Typically people don’t survive when their heart suddenly stops beating. And if they do survive, most have brain injuries from lack of oxygen.
Mark had a Sudden Cardiac Arrest not a heart attack. A Heart attack is a “circulation/plumbing problem” meaning the blood flow to the heart is blocked. Sudden Cardiac Arrest is an “electrical problem” where the heart suddenly and unexpectedly stops beating.
When I woke to sounds of Mark having gasping for breath his heart had already stopped! I learned later that this is called Agonal breathing. It is not really breathing, and if any air is exchanged in the lungs, it doesn’t get to the rest of the body, most importantly the brain, without good quality CPR.
Sudden Cardiac Arrest can happen to anyone regardless of age, race, gender, or fitness level…even young athletes die each year. Less than 10% of people survive SCA because bystanders don’t understand what is happening. Just like I didn’t understand what was happening to Mark. The signs are not the same as a heart attack.
This information is so important! There is a good chance that one of you reading this will be in a situation like I was. Survival rate is significantly increased when a bystander promptly administers CPR! Specifically chest compressions! Specifically chest compressions that are deep and fast enough to circulate blood to the vital organs.
Survival rate decreases 7-10% for each minute that passes. So getting oxygenated blood to move throughout the body and reach vital organs like the brain is critical. Every minute counts!
Mark is alive today due to reacting quickly and high quality CPR! Alternatively, I would be writing post funeral notes instead of sharing this story with you!
Peace, Love, and Quality CPR!

SCAFoundation's picture
SCAFoundation wrote 3 years 7 weeks ago


What an amazing story! Thank you so much for sharing. We are so glad to know your husband is doing well. We hope our readers benefit from your insights and words of wisdom.

Sudden Cardiac Arrest Foundation

Bob Trenkamp's picture
Bob Trenkamp wrote 3 years 7 weeks ago

Waking up to a real 'life' emergency

As a post-retirement (second career) paramedic that worked on ambulances and in an Emergency Department, I've worked on fifty-three cardiac arrest victims. After reading your recounting, I suspect you and your husband don't realize just how incredibly lucky you are.

Having the collection of people nearby that you did made, I'm sure, a huge difference.

Permit me to comment on the 7-10% per minute part of the tale: it's dated. Most cardiac arrest victims start out in a "shockable rhythm" unless the arrest was due to suffocation / drowning, or some chemical trigger. After a while the heart rhythm transitions into a non-shockable rhythm. The reason this is important is that people resuscitated from a shockable rhythm have a seven times greater chance of walking out of the hospital with the ability to perform the activities of daily living unassisted than a person resuscitated from a non-shockable rhythm. And victims resuscitated by AED within minutes of the arrest have far higher survival chances.

My wife and I own a personal AED and we take it with us when we travel.

In populated areas (we live on an island south of Savannah, GA with about 8,000 other people. We have an ambulance on the island and a dedicated Medical First Responder group. At the same time it can be 5 to 10 minutes from the time of the arrest to the hand-on arrival of someone with a defibrillator. Also, my chest requires 142 pounds to compress two inches. My wife weighs 115. That's why we have an AED.

The odds of your husband needing help again is low, since he has an implanted defibrillator. Nether you nor I have any idea of your probability of your having a cardiac arrest, but it's far better to own an AED and never need it than to need one and not have one.

There are two other things you might want to consider:
1. Heel (of the foot) chest compression is being looked at for Bystanders by the AHA and the ARC. It not only increases the percentage of the adult population to which you can administer two inch compression, it also quadruples the number of people who can perform compressions for ten minutes. You can see the technique at - just click on the Adult CPR. video. If you want copy of the Medical Journal in which the heel compression results were documented, send an email to bobt [at] slicc [dot] org and I'll send it to you.
2. it's not important to your safety that you know CPR - it's important to your safety that the people around you all know how to recognize a cardiac arrest when they see one - and what to do about it.

My eyes got a bit watery reading your recounting of the arrest and the outcome. Can't tell you how happy I am for you both.

Bob Trenkamp

Bob Trenkamp, President
Saving Lives In Chatham County

2WingFlapper's picture
2WingFlapper wrote 3 years 7 weeks ago

Hi Bob, Thank you for the

Hi Bob,

Thank you for the "shockable rhythm" information. I am on a mission to learn everything I can about SCA and educate others. Indeed appreciate corrections on any misinformation. May I use your comment "it's not important to your safety that you know CPR - it's important to your safety that the people around you all know how to recognize a cardiac arrest when they see one - and what to do about it." in a PP presentation? I will be presenting to my co-workers at a sales meeting next month. (I work for a chemical company and we always begin our meetings with safety).

I will shoot over an email soon. I was hoping to get some guidance on ways to get the word out. I have started a list of ideas beginning with social media, organizations such as scouts, schools etc. Perhaps others have done what I am planning and there is a better way.

Connie Hansen

Bob Trenkamp's picture
Bob Trenkamp wrote 3 years 7 weeks ago

Meeting with co-workers

You may use whatever you like. The only exception is in the Class Video EULA - you can use the videos without charge and so long as you do not change them.

What is the topic and main message of your presentation at the Sales meeting?


Bob Trenkamp, President
Saving Lives In Chatham County

Youltoe's picture
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