Barbara Tibbitts with her great grandchildren
No pun intended, but when Barbara Tibbitts suffered sudden cardiac arrest and had to be revived by fire department personnel with an automated external defibrillator (AED) on November 11, 1999, it came as quite a shock.
"Even at 69, I was in fantastic physical shape," Barbara said, noting that she was regularly tap dancing and taking jazzercize classes at the time of the event. “The doctor still says I have the heart of a 40-year-old. It was just the (heart's) timing that went wrong.”
Right after dinner on that November evening, Barbara got into the family car outside the restaurant and told her husband Tom that she felt “a rush.” That is the last thing she remembers for several days. The following is account is all second hand.
Tom knew she was in trouble and administered CPR and gave her “two good puffs of air,” before going back to the restaurant and calling 9-1-1. By the time he got back to the car, a woman saw what was happening and offered to help. Tom applied pressure to the heart while the woman, whose name the couple has never discovered to this day, tried to breathe life back into her lifeless body.
When the fire department arrived, one shock from the AED did the job and she was off to the hospital.
After 36 hours in a coma, Barbara regained consciousness but says that she doesn't remember most of what went on for the next several days.
“My family went to the Elks Club and had a big Thanksgiving Dinner,” she remembers everyone telling her, "because they thought I knew what was going on, but I don't remember it.”
Now 76 and still physically fit, Barbara has a new passion—talking to decision-makers about getting lifesaving AEDs in all public places. She has spoken on the subject to the Arizona legislature, convincing them to buy the devices for their offices. Not long after, the life of one of those legislators was saved by their decision.
Tom went to the Rotary Club, where he is a member, to tout the importance of AEDs and received funds to place three of them in the local public school district.
Barbara said that she would like to someday find the woman who helped her (the fire department is forbidden by law to give her the heroine's name).
Meanwhile, she partially credits her own superior decision making for her recovery. "I was smart enough to have my event when someone was around," she says with a laugh, "and I was smart enough to come back quickly," after only one shock.
Quick thinking, Barbara!
- A.J. Caliendo