Vicky Conley always grumbled whenever her work-required CPR training session came around. But it may be what saved her husband’s life.
Conley and her husband, Andy, were visiting a flea market in Oklahoma City in late August when Andy said he felt dizzy.
Initially, Conley didn’t get too worried because he’d been complaining of it off and on for the past month. But things quickly changed.
“I looked at him and you could tell he was blacking out,” she said. “I reached out to grab him and we both fell to the floor.”
Conley, 65, quickly rolled Andy off of her and began CPR. A bystander asked to help and Conley instructed her to call 911. A second bystander also offered help and Conley asked him to find the eyeglasses she lost when she fell.
Focused, Conley said the CPR response came easily, as she moved through the compressions, trying to keep a quick enough rhythm and remember to push hard enough. She had undergone training two days earlier.
“I automatically knew what to do,” she said. “I heard my instructor’s voice in my head and did exactly what he taught in class.”
Within moments, an ambulance crew was there and used an automated external defibrillator, or AED, to shock Andy’s heart back into a normal rhythm before loading him into an ambulance and to OU Medical Center.
Two chaplains met Conley at the hospital until other family could arrive.
“That’s when I just fell apart,” she said. “It finally hit me what was happening.”
Andy, 70, was sent to the catheterization lab, and then, after finding three blocked arteries, doctors performed triple bypass surgery.
About two weeks later, doctors implanted an internal defibrillator, which will detect a life-threatening heart rhythm in the future and shock Andy’s heart back into a normal rhythm.
OU Medicine cardiac surgeon Jess Thompson, M.D., said Conley’s quick use of CPR saved Andy’s heart and helped ensure his brain wasn’t damaged by keeping oxygen moving to the brain.
“Undoubtedly the reason why Mr. Conley is here with us is the CPR education his wife obtained … and the swift initiation of the CPR by his wife,” Thompson said.
Recovery has been slow, as Andy struggles to build stamina and the couple from Guthrie, Oklahoma, acclimates to new routines.
In late October, he had another surgery to remove plaque buildup from an artery in his neck to improve his circulation. The couple’s daughter and her three children have moved in to help with his care, navigating medications and doctor’s appointments after Conley returned to work.
Andy’s cardiac arrest was caused by atherosclerosis, or a buildup of plaque in the walls of the arteries. He also has high blood pressure and high cholesterol, although both were controlled by medication before his heart attack.
After using CPR to keep her husband alive, Conley has become an ardent advocate of the lifesaving tool.
“I’ve always dreaded taking the classes, but that’s changed,” she said. “Everyone should have CPR training.”
About 326,000 people experience cardiac arrest outside of a hospital each year and about 90 percent of them die, often because bystanders don’t know CPR or are afraid they’ll do something wrong. Effective bystander CPR, provided immediately after cardiac arrest, can double or triple a victim’s chance of survival.
Conley said she surprised herself for being able to do CPR.
“I’m overweight and have bad knees and I never thought I could get down on the ground and do CPR,” she said. “I don’t care who you are, you can do it.”