On July 17, 2004, a coincidence at the Minneapolis- St. Paul International Airport turned into a dramatic, lifesaving event. The twist of fate involved two women: Mary May, a San Francisco Bay-area resident, and Leslie Meyers, a clinical specialist with Medtronic, a medical technology company and the pioneer of defi brillation, a technique that administers a shock to a stopped heart to restore the heartbeat.
The encounter began when May was waiting for her flight home to California. “I felt my face getting very cold,” she says. “After that, I don’t remember anything until more than a day later.” She had collapsed in sudden cardiac arrest, in which the heart beats erratically and then stops. The condition is usually fatal.
At the same time, Meyers was also headed home to the Bay area on the same flight as May. As Meyers walked up to the gate, she saw a crowd gathered around May’s slumped body, and people asking, “Ma’am, ma’am, are you OK?”
Meyers instructed onlookers to get the woman on the floor, check her pulse and breathing, and call 9-1-1. Then she ran to look for an automated external defi brillator (AED), and found a LIFEPAK¨ AED on a nearby wall. A small, portable electronic device, an AED enables someone with minimal training to provide a potentially lifesaving shock to a heart that has stopped beating.
After three shocks from the AED, May was unresponsive. Meyers remembers saying, “Don’t die on me. I know you want to make it.” After a fourth shock, May’s heart started beating and she began to breathe. Paramedics arrived and asked about May’s medical history. Meyers blurted out that May had a pacemaker. Then she reeled, suddenly realizing that she knew the person whose life she had just savedÑshe had assisted with implanting a pacemaker in May just a few months earlier.
Soon after May’s heart event, her pacemaker was replaced with an implantable defibrillator that is designed to monitor the heart’s rhythm and deliver a shock(s) if it detects a dangerous rhythm. While May’s story has a happy ending, not everyone is so fortunate. Every year, up to 450,000 Americans die of sudden cardiac arrest because they don’t receive defi brillation in time. This may change now that AEDs are available in many public places, schools, places of worship, and even homes. AEDs are easy to use with little training, and as May’s story illustrates, they save lives.