Wednesday 23 Jul 2014

Information and opinions presented here do not always represent the views of the American Heart Association.

Forty minutes without a heartbeat to a life filled with purpose

Published: 8:30 am CDT, June 17, 2014

Wendy Brechbuhler was using her phone to track the distance she was covering with her husband Kraig while they trained for a marathon in July last year. But, moments later, when he collapsed during a cool-down walk, she was using it to save his life — by calling 9-1-1.

Then she started CPR. And she prayed.

EMTs shocked Brechbuhler with a defibrillator to resuscitate him, but there was no response. Then they administered more CPR. They shocked him again on the way to the hospital. Still, nothing.

CPR continued, but when they got to the hospital Brechbuhler’s heart still wasn’t beating. He went almost 40 minutes without a heartbeat and was shocked six times. Things looked grim.

When Brechbuhler arrived at the hospital he was put on a ventilator. He received therapeutic hypothermia, a treatment that cooled his body to help prevent brain damage. And after many days in the hospital receiving “phenomenal” care, Brechbuhler was released and is mostly recovered but struggles with atrial fibrillation (a quivering or irregular heartbeat).

He doesn’t remember much about that day, and he even lost memory of events that happened before his sudden cardiac arrest. “When my wife brought me home there was a pile of brush in the back yard and I asked, ‘Who trimmed the trees?’ She told me that I had done it the previous weekend. Much of the memories of what I did the couple of weeks before are gone.”

In March he ran his first 5K since his cardiac arrest. And in September, he plans to be part of a Heart Walk team in Ohio.

Brechbuhler credits his faith, medical care and research for saving his life. He believes that the American Heart Association, which raises funds to fight heart disease and stroke, the world’s leading killers, are more important than he ever knew.

“I wasn’t aware of the impact and the technology available as a result of the American Heart Association,” he said.

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