The Kentucky woman had traveled to the emergency cardiovascular care volunteer meeting in Charleston, West Virginia, on Monday – during National CPR and AED Awareness Week.
About 30 minutes before the meeting, others in attendance saw the woman suddenly slump over in her chair. They lowered her to the ground and found she was not responding and not breathing — both signs of cardiac arrest.
One person ran to get the automated external defibrillator, or AED, and asked AHA staffer Jessica McNeely to call 911. An AED is a device that can detect abnormal heart rhythms and deliver an electric shock to reset an effective heartbeat.
After calling EMS, McNeely urged CPR instructor Cindy Keely to come to the conference room to help. Keely, a Mission Lifeline director at AHA, had done “thousands of resuscitations” as a respiratory therapist before joining the AHA two years ago.
Keely ran to the conference room to find Cheryl Camacho, vice-chair of the ECC regional volunteer committee from Washington, D.C., attaching the AED leads to the woman’s chest.
“I can’t let this woman die,” Keely recalled thinking.
Ray Whatley, a paramedic from Alexandria, Virginia, pressed the shock button after making sure no one was touching the patient. Keely resumed chest compressions immediately after the shock and Camacho relieved her.
About the time emergency responders arrived, the woman began breathing and coughing. The entire episode lasted about 3-5 minutes, Keely said.
By the time the woman reached the emergency room, she was “totally with it,” according to EMS reports. She told EMS workers, “Please let them know that I’m OK and please don’t let them cancel the meeting because of me.”
“She was still living the mission and wanting us to carry on,” Keely said.