A Gallon of Milk, An Angel and a Defibrillator is All One Needs...

A Gallon of Milk, An Angel and a Defibrillator is All One Needs...

Mary Jo Cipollini, Poughkeepsie, NY – 36 at time of event (2002)

A trip to the supermarket can change your life forever. Mary Jo had taken her two-year-old Tommy, and her parents, grocery shopping one morning in early October. At the store, she received a call from the nurse at her six-year-old daughter’s school, asking Mary Jo to pick Ally up because she had an earache. Unperturbed, Mary Jo left Tommy with Grandma and Grandpa, and headed out to the parking lot with a handful of shopping bags, to collect her daughter.

She woke up several days later in the cardiac care unit with a tube down her throat and no recollection of who the man sitting beside her was. She had been married to him for many years, and he was extremely worried about her condition. Joe was scared; he had been told that when Mary Jo was admitted she had been curled up in fetal position and her fists were clenched into her chest.* Despite being able to see, hear and talk, it seemed that Mary Jo had lost her memory.

Witnesses who saw Mary Jo’s collapse in the parking lot say she jerked a few times and then fell face down onto the pavement. Her arms were cut and bruised by the impact, but the gallon of milk in her hands had cushioned her face. Fortunately for Mary Jo, and her family, she had two lucky breaks. The first piece of luck was that the Produce Manager, Jim Fleming, knew CPR. “He’s my angel,” Mary Jo said in commendation. “He kept oxygen going through my body. I lot of people just don’t want to get involved.” Her second stroke of luck was that the medics dispatched by 9-1-1 did not arrive. Another unit was nearby and had responded instead. This ambulance had a defibrillator—the dispatched crew did NOT. Even so, it took over 10 minutes for the EMTs to get there and eventually shock her back into rhythm. Without the CPR and defibrillation, Mary Jo would not be telling me her story. She knows it, and is committed to placing 19 AEDs in her community. (The odds of surviving a cardiac arrest are around 1 in 20 and she hopes to make up for those that did not survive.) She has also engaged her local Rotary Club to help make their county HeartSafe™.

An Italian with a large extended family that lives close by, Mary Jo is (was) a fussy eater. She prided herself on the quality of the food she preferred, but surprised everyone by wolfing down every morsel of the hospital meals. “I appreciate good food, but I ate all that hospital food and asked for seconds!” Mary Jo said in amazement. “But, I have no memory of any of this! It’s just one of God’s many gifts…” She also had some strange conversations, one time saying “I’ve got to introduce you to my cousin, Mary Ellen,” in the middle of a chat with her cousin, Mary Ellen.

Seventeen days later Mary Jo had an ICD implanted to watch over her 24x7. Joe wishes it never happened, and is highly protective these days, even to the point of standing in front of Mary Jo when they go watch a game, in case she gets hit in the chest. Her children have a simpler view, “The device is a good thing because ‘Mommy can help herself now,’” Mary Jo said in describing how they accompany her on the regular visits to the cardiologist.

“It wakes you up.” Mary Jo says about the event, not specifically referring to the defibrillation shocks. “I got a kick in the butt, and am now involved with the AHA helping with CPR and AED awareness. Would I have chosen that [before]? Probably not,” she said a little wistfully. “The good Lord has his ways…”

* The medical term is decorticate posture, which is an indication of central nervous system disruption.

-Jeremy Whitehead

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