Judy Strnad was preparing to host friends at a Super Bowl party when she “decided to die on the couch.” That’s according to her wife, Pat Mikos, who was in the kitchen when she heard a sound from the other room.
“I called Judy and there was no answer. I turned around and saw that she had gone completely back on the couch, so I dove out of my wheelchair to get to her,” said Mikos, who was recovering from a recent fall that day back in February 2010.
Mikos started CPR and called 911. By the time paramedics arrived at their home in Union, Ohio, Strnad had been unconscious for nearly 10 minutes.
Strnad was among the more than 350,000 Americans who have a cardiac arrest outside a hospital each year, and only 12 percent survive. A cardiac arrest occurs when electrical impulses in the heart become so chaotic that the heart suddenly stops.
“Paramedics were working on Judy [for another 20 minutes] and they kept looking at me with pity,” Mikos said. “It finally dawned on me that they wanted to code her. But I said, ‘Don’t you dare stop.’”
Paramedics shocked Strnad’s heart with an automated external defibrillator, or AED, to restore a normal rhythm. In the hospital, doctors diagnosed her with long QT syndrome, an often inherited condition that affects the heart’s electrical activity. She received an implantable cardioverter defibrillator, a battery-powered device that shocks the heart should it start beating erratically.
Strnad had few memories of what happened. Once she was home, the then-54-year-old began to experience other side effects of serious anoxic brain injury, which occurs when the brain doesn’t receive oxygen.
“I felt very tired and confused. I had lost all of my peripheral vision. I was also having trouble remembering words. I was testing at a first-grade level. My good memory was gone,” said Strnad, who months later still couldn’t walk in a straight line or walk up stairs easily. In December 2010, she entered a comprehensive rehabilitation program that included speech, occupational and physical therapy.
“I’ve been told that I’m not supposed to have lived through this,” said Strnad, who was diagnosed earlier this year with cardiomyopathy and a slightly enlarged heart. “I can’t help but wonder what the reason is for all of this. I need to be out there talking about it.”
Strnad became involved with the American Heart Association in Dayton to support other cardiac arrest survivors and to help their caregivers. She and Mikos also started a support network and blog called Scrambled Connections after Strnad’s doctor suggested it to help people prepare for the challenges of life after rehab.
“Pat didn’t know that she was bringing home an entirely different person,” Strnad said.
“We want to support people who have brain injuries and heart disease,” she said. “We’d also like to look at protocols around CPR because if Pat hadn’t worked on me that day and if she hadn’t advocated for me, I wouldn’t be here.”