Saturday mornings at the Smithlin household in Puyallup, Washington, followed a comfortable routine: Kyra, an early riser, would go into her 9-year-old son Bryce’s room for some cuddle time while her husband, Tony, enjoyed a little extra sleep.
On Dec. 15, 2012, things were going along as usual. Kyra was lying in bed with Bryce when she suddenly gasped and began to shake. Bryce ran to tell his dad that mom was having a seizure.
Kyra had a history of hypoglycemia and Tony figured this was another such episode. So he sent Bryce to the kitchen to grab a soda in hopes of jump-starting her blood sugar level. He then raced to Bryce’s room to be with his wife.
What he found was shocking: Kyra was gray and clearly not breathing. Frantic, he told Bryce to call 911.
Tony pulled Kyra to the floor and began performing CPR. It had been 20 years since his training, but thankfully he remembered what to do.
Bryce helped by calling 911 and holding the phone to his dad’s ear for the duration of the call while Tony continued CPR. When first responders arrived, Bryce raced out to meet them and directed them to his mom.
EMTs were able to stabilize Kyra with a weak heartbeat, which enabled them to transport her to the hospital. She was awake and alert upon arrival, and brought to the intensive care unit.
Friends and family, including Kyra’s two older children (Kailey, then 22, and Connor, 18) came quickly in mixed states of shock and relief.
Then it happened again. According to Tony, one of the nurses in the room looked at another nurse, pointed to the vital signals monitor and said, “Is that real?” Kyra’s heart had stopped beating.
The next eight hours were desperately chaotic.
In their efforts to revive Kyra, the medical team burned out two defibrillator units and moved on to a third. Kyra received 37 defibrillation treatments, which — together with the three that had helped stabilize her initially — brought the total to a whopping 40. The combination of CPR efforts and defibrillation left her with broken ribs and a burned body.
Two doctors prepared to accept defeat. They sent Tony to gather family to say goodbyes, and prepared to render a time of death.
But a third doctor in the room refused to concur, maintaining there was still “something” in Kyra’s eyes. Time of death can’t be called without unanimous consent.
When Tony approached Bryce, the boy implored his dad to tell him the truth. Tony knelt down and tearfully told his son that it didn’t look good; Mom was probably not going to make it.
Bryce’s headed straight for the room where Kyra was being treated and made his way through the mayhem to climb onto the bed with his mom.
“Mom, if you need to go, it’s OK,” he told her. “But if you can fight, I want you to fight. I love you Mom and I know you love me. Forgive me if I ever did anything wrong. I love you.”
Kyra’s vital signs began to stabilize.
Her battered, bruised and unconscious body responded to Bryce’s voice as if he’d reminded her what she was fighting for. When she regained consciousness, still unable to speak, she was given a pad of paper from the hospital and a pen on which she wrote “Bryce is Amazing.”
The family now has this piece of paper framed in their family room.
Once Kyra stabilized, doctors found the source of the problem: a rare congenital heart defect called non-compaction cardiomyopathy that had been asymptomatic for 47 years. She was transferred to another hospital and began a regimen of medications to control her heart rhythm.
She also had an internal defibrillator implanted. That device saved her life six months later when another attack struck.
The impact that this December day in 2012 had on the Smithlin family is immeasurable.
Logistically, Kyra’s medical profile is much more complicated and requires a great deal of management and attention. She’s had to make adjustments to her daily activities. But the Smithlins say that the biggest change has been emotional.
“We all have an hourglass that’s our lifespan,” Tony said. “But we have no idea how much sand is left at the top.”
This revelation has led the family to cherish their time together and with loved ones, and to be truly grateful for the gift of life that each day brings.
The Smithlins also have begun to champion the importance of heart health and CPR training.
More than 326,000 people suffer cardiac arrest outside of a hospital, with 70 percent of those happening at home. A majority of people say they feel helpless to act because they don’t know how to administer CPR or it’s been too long since they learned.
June is the perfect time. Since 2008, Congress has designated the first week of June as national CPR & AED Awareness Week. All month, there’s added emphasis to teach more people how to become a lifesaver.
The American Heart Association helped pioneer CPR over 50 years ago, and continues to refine this lifesaving technique. The organization trains more than 16 million people in CPR, First Aid or Advanced Life Support programs each year in more than 100 countries. Even without formal training, anyone can be a lifesaver by remembering the steps to Hands-Only CPR – call 911, 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. The AHA also encourages states to pass laws to train high school students in CPR before they graduate, putting more potential lifesavers into our communities.
Bryce has taught CPR at his local Boys & Girls Club in Olympia, Washington. The family has spoken at an American Heart Association Go Red For Women function at Benaroya Hall in Seattle. They also participated in their local Heart Ball.
Bryce Smithlin is without question a remarkable young man.
And he also keeps it real: When asked whether he ever uses the fact that he saved his mom’s life as a bargaining tool when negotiating for a later bedtime or extra dessert, this heart hero says, “Absolutely.”