Thursday 30 Oct 2014

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

STORIES FROM THE HEART: Husband, wife exemplify the importance of knowing CPR

Published: 9:00 am CDT, August 6, 2014

With a degree from Missouri State in sports medicine, and as the owner of CrossFit Springfield, Jeremy Mhire knew all about performing CPR.

He’d never used those skills, though – not until his wife needed her life to be saved.

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It was April 2008, and Jeremy, Jenny and their 8-week-old son Vincent were traveling along Highway 44 in Missouri. They were headed to Jenny’s parents’ house in Joplin to drop off the baby, then the couple were going to visit Lawrence, Kansas.

Jeremy looked into the backseat at Jenny – his high school sweetheart, his “Jenny ShineShine” – and at Vincent. He got the baby to laugh, and snapped a picture.

About a half-hour into the drive, Jenny was asleep when a truck veered into their lane. The commotion it caused woke her up. She then gasped and slumped over, her mouth and eyes open.

“She was lifeless,” Jeremy said.

Jeremy immediately pulled the car to the side of the road and placed Jenny on the ground so could check her pulse and listen for her breathing.

Jenny had no pulse. She wasn’t breathing. And she was starting to turn a bluish color.

Jeremy started doing chest compressions and giving mouth-to-mouth breaths.

“I just focused on the task at hand, blowing in the air, making sure her head was tilted back, that the airway was clear and her tongue wasn’t falling back,” Jeremy said. “When you learn CPR, you go through the motions, but to use it, what that feels like, I just can’t describe it. I’m really thankful I had training. I just started doing those first few cycles of compressions and breaths.”

A highway patrol officer eventually pulled over to help. He carried a defibrillator, a device that uses electric shock to restore the heart’s rhythm. Jenny still wasn’t responding.

An ambulance arrived, emergency medical technicians established a heart rhythm and Jenny was rushed to the hospital.

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Several days later, while still in the hospital, Jenny said her heart felt funny.

That’s when her heart stopped again.

“She completely flat-lined,” Jeremy said.

Rushed to surgery, Jenny had a pacemaker and defibrillator implanted to help maintain a normal heart rhythm. She also eventually received an explanation. Her problems were caused by a condition known as Long QT syndrome.

Long QT syndrome is a rare genetic disorder that can occur in otherwise healthy people and disrupt normal heart function. The condition occurs more often in women, and can be misdiagnosed or overlooked entirely. Long QT syndrome affects about 1 in 7,000 people in the United States and may have caused between 3,000 and 4,000 sudden cardiac deaths in children and young adults each year. The condition often doesn’t have any symptoms; when it does, among the most common is unexplained fainting, which is caused by not enough blood reaching the brain. Jenny acknowledged that she fainted suddenly a few weeks before collapsing in the car, but had attributed it to postpartum fatigue. Jenny had no known history of heart problems or risks for heart disease.

She now takes beta blocker drugs, and regularly visits her cardiologist. Data from her pacemaker is automatically transmitted to her care team so they can spot any irregular heartbeats. Since the pacemaker was implanted, Jenny has not experienced any problems. Pacemakers typically last about five years, and later this year, Jenny will undergo her first surgery to have her pacemaker replaced.

Jenny’s two children also underwent genetic testing for the Long QT syndrome gene mutation. She and Jeremy were relieved when the results were negative.

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Jenny, now 34 and a mother of two, hasn’t been slowed by her condition.

She’s a business manager at a hospital in the Springfield, Missouri, area and has since become a yoga instructor. She is obviously very thankful that her husband knew what to do when the moment of need arose, and has become a vocal advocate for the importance of learning CPR.

“You can save a life just by learning some basic steps,” she said.

Jeremy’s quick thinking and CPR training saved his wife’s life.

“I honestly wouldn’t be here without him,” she said.

Because about 80 percent of out-of-hospital cardiac arrests occur at home, a family member who knows CPR may be the one who can help save a life. An estimated 90 percent of individuals who suffer out-of-hospital cardiac arrest die before reaching the hospital, but if a bystander knows CPR, research shows that chances of survival can double or even triple.

The American Heart Association helped pioneer CPR over 50 years ago, and continues to refine this lifesaving technique. The organization trains more than 15 million people each year in 60-plus countries. Even without formal training, anyone can be a lifesaver by remembering the steps to “Hands-Only CPR” – call 9-1-1, then push hard and fast in the center of the chest, preferably to the beat of the classic disco song, “Stayin’ Alive” until help arrives.

“It’s a tool in your toolbox you hope you never have to use,” said Jeremy, also 34. “Heart disease and heart conditions can affect any one at any age. I think that’s easily taken for granted especially among people in their 20s and 30s. But you can be proactive with your life. We’re so humbled by the opportunity to share our experience and hopefully raise awareness.”


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Photos courtesy of Jenny & Jeremy Mhire

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Do you know a “Story from the Heart” we should tell?

Send an email to stories@heart.org that’s as brief or as detailed as you’d like.

Previous “Stories from the Heart” include:

Heartburn? Hardly. Under an hour later, his life-threatening problem was resolved

26-year-old rebuilds life, golf game after stroke

His two open-heart surgeries by 6 prompted family’s support of research