February is heart health month. Good awareness for all that teeter on the edge of heart health. The heart is both the strongest and the weakest muscle in our body. Magnificent in what it does every single moment of every single day. Until it doesn’t. Until something happens.
I want to share a story. A story that still scares me and that perhaps will forever be a source of flashbacks, discomfort, and the oh so ever knowing that but for the grace of God or the universe or just dumb luck, my beautiful son, my beautiful perfectly healthy son, my beautiful perfectly healthy athletic son almost died. Because his heart stopped.
It was a regular ordinary sort of six o’clock. I was making burgers. Grill firing up. My eldest son was upstairs changing out of his work clothes and my daughter was about to set the table. My beautiful oh so perfectly healthy son was on the couch, scolling through his phone and texting his other brother something like where the heck are you, mom’s about to put dinner on the table.
And then, my daughter saw something. Something not right. Out of the corner of her eye. While she was setting the table for the first time in forever. She yelled to me, and because as parents we know the tone and tenor of our children’s voice, I ran to the living room.
And there, that perfectly healthy oh so athletic twenty two year old son of mine was under attack. His body was failing. He was gasping, reeling back, eyes closed, fighting something we could not see.
I yelled to my eldest to call 911. We pulled the seizing not breathing, dying son to the floor. And every muscle and instinct in my body took over. Years of annual CPR training at a preschool where I used to work all came back to me. I knew he was not breathing. I felt for a non existent pulse and I started yelling at him to wake up and I started to push down with both hands linked in the center of his chest with all my might. With every single bit of me. I did not stop until the EMTs arrived five minutes later.
And then it was just like a movie or a hospital drama tv show. They flew into purpose – attaching him to a machine that would take over the chest compressions. Cutting off his clothes. preparing to shock his heart. They yelled “CLEAR” and with that my oh so beautiful healthy athletic son lifted up off the floor and down. Then silence for a second or forever and all eyes on the little monitor that was showing just some straight lines. We yelled. We told him to come back. My other children crying.
And then, the lines turned. And jumped and so did his heart. They stabilized him. They put him on a stretcher. They whisked him away in an ambulance and we followed.
The days ahead were filled with questions and finally answers. We were so blessed and fortunate to have access to that kind of healthcare.
The story continues, but for now it is simply this. Learn CPR. Again or for the first time. I will be ever grateful that I was there and I knew what to do. His brain was never deprived of oxygen. He survived.
Learn CPR. It is no longer about breathing and filling up the lungs with your exhale. Its all about the pumping of the heart. The recirculating of the oxygenated blood that is already in the body.
So, yes, February is heart health month. For most of us that might mean something. For all of us, that must be a reminder of the fragility of the strongest muscle in our body. And that we can help it keep pumping for someone else if we know what to do – even if we think it will never happen.
I never thought that my oh so healthy twenty-two year old captain of his college basketball team would almost die on a Monday night. But an arrhythmia does not come with a warning sign.
Thank you CPR trainers. Thank you Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care that makes it a license requirement that all teachers are trained in CPR. Thank you American Red Cross. Thank you Lexington EMTs and first responders and all of the doctors, nurses, and medical support professionals at Lahey Clinic who combined to save his beating heart.