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Meet Justin, the Man Who Survived a Heart Attack Thanks to CPR - You Won't Believe How It Happened

Updated: May 31, 2023

Justin Stroh on the sidewalk he was shoveling in 2021 when his heart stopped. (Photo courtesy of Justin Stroh)

In the winter months of 2021, Philadelphia was hit by heavy snowfall. It was a Monday in February, and Justin Stroh and his wife, Bess, both in their 60s, were taking turns shoveling the snow in front of their suburban home. The snow was falling fast and hard, dumping 1 to 2 inches an hour before mixing with rain, making it too heavy to clear. The Strohs thought about taking a long walk with Michael, their Labrador mix, but decided it was too slick to walk safely.

Bess settled into working in a back bedroom, where she had created a makeshift office during the pandemic. Justin suddenly decided he needed to tackle the sidewalk. Without telling his wife, he stepped out. However, Justin has no memory of that day or the days and weeks that followed.

Justin collapsed in front of their home, far from where Bess could have seen or heard him. He was lying there, lifeless, when Jennifer Kennedy drove by on her way to pick up her son from school.

"I happened to see in my peripheral vision that there was a guy lying in the snow," Kennedy said. She pulled her car over, climbed around a snowbank, and called out to him. Getting no response, she called 911 and began CPR. Having been trained as a cardiac surgical nurse, she knew exactly what to do.

Kennedy's efforts were the first in a series of events that likely saved Justin's life – and his brain function. Nine out of 10 people who go into cardiac arrest outside a hospital die. Many of those who are resuscitated die before being discharged from the hospital due to injuries to their brain and vital organs from lack of oxygen when their heart stopped. But those who get CPR from a bystander have double the chance of survival.

CPR stands for cardiopulmonary resuscitation. It is a lifesaving technique that is useful in many emergencies, including heart attack or near-drowning. It combines rescue breathing and chest compressions to help maintain the blood flow to the brain and the heart, preventing brain damage and ultimately saving lives. It is a simple technique, but it can be challenging, especially if you have never practiced it before. In situations like these, CPR training and education play a crucial role in preparing people to react quickly and effectively.

There are many reasons people can go into cardiac arrest. Heart attacks – more common during periods of heavy snowfall, when shoveling places extra stress on the heart – are one of them. In Justin's case, it was a heart attack stemming from a blocked artery that caused his cardiac arrest.

Emergency medical professionals restored Justin's heartbeat. However, he spent about three months in the hospital, an odyssey that included a month spent in a medically induced coma and a bout with pneumonia resulting from the insertion of a breathing tube during his ambulance ride. Along the way, kidney problems prompted temporary dialysis.

Just as he was starting to recover, he came down with COVID-19. Until this time, Bess had stayed by his side in the ICU, reading to her husband, playing music, and talking to him. So it was no surprise that when he got COVID-19, she did too.

Another challenge Justin overcame was some temporary cognitive issues. Once conscious again, he had to relearn how to speak and walk. He also has some memory loss. The last thing he remembers is being at a museum in New York with his daughter, something that happened two weeks before his collapse.

"I look normal, but I still suffer from a few things," he said. "I am incredibly easily winded. I can't do very much."

Despite all the challenges he has faced, Justin remains optimistic and grateful. He hopes his story can inspire others to learn CPR and become better equipped to save lives in emergency situations. He emphasizes the importance of CPR training and education, stating that anyone can learn to perform CPR and potentially save a life.

According to the American Heart Association, only about 32% of cardiac arrest victims receive CPR from a bystander. The organization is working to improve those statistics through increased CPR education and training initiatives.

Justin's experience underscores the critical importance of bystander CPR. Had Jennifer Kennedy not stopped to help, Justin's outcome may have been very different. But because she was trained in CPR and acted quickly, she was able to keep his blood flowing until emergency medical services arrived.

Justin's journey to recovery has been a long and difficult one, but he is grateful for the second chance at life he has been given. He hopes that his story can inspire others to learn CPR and become better prepared to respond in an emergency. By doing so, they may be able to save a life, just as Jennifer Kennedy did for him.


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