It should have been a quiet evening at home watching TV.
“There was no warning, no nothing,” Karen Carr recalls of the December evening her husband’s heart stopped beating. Jeff Carr, a tall, lean construction worker at age 52, felt uncomfortable on the couch and decided to go upstairs to lie down.
Karen, who followed him, describes, “He lay down and that was it. He closed his eyes, stopped breathing and died.”
Frantic to help her husband, Karen began cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), stacking her hands in the center of Jeff’s chest and pressing rhythmically. She alternated by blowing breaths into his mouth, dredging up memories of a CPR class she’d taken 14 years ago at the Northern Kentucky school where she worked. Karen simultaneously realized she needed to call 911 – and that her phone was downstairs.
Her own heart beating wildly, Karen did six compressions, dashed back downstairs to retrieve both of their phones and ran back up to the bedroom.
“I was pumping his chest one-handed and dialing 911 with the other hand,” she recalls. She also managed to call Jeff’s daughter, Sarah, who lives 14 doors away. An Independence (Kentucky) Fire District life squad, just three blocks away, arrived at the Carrs’ home less than eight minutes after Karen’s 911 call.
Karen stepped out of the room as the emergency medical team applied paddles to Jeff’s chest and shocked his heart three times before restoring his heart rhythm. “They saw his heart beating on the machine and then took him away.”
As the EMTs sped Jeff toward St. Elizabeth Edgewood, Karen and Sarah followed in Sarah’s car.
Bypassing the St. Elizabeth Emergency Department, Jeff was quickly whisked into a catheterization lab, where interventional cardiologist Saadeddine Dughman, MD, of the St. Elizabeth Heart & Vascular Institute, discovered and cleared a 100% blockage in Jeff’s left anterior descending artery, a major coronary artery.
“They call it the widow-maker,” Karen says, due to the high rate of death if the blockage is not opened up quickly.
Karen and Sarah waited anxiously as Dr. Dughman used balloon angioplasty to open the blocked vessel and inserted a stent to support the vessel and help keep it open. One of the EMTs, Laura, stayed with them to provide support and get updates.
When Dr. Dughman emerged from the cath lab into the waiting room, Karen identified herself as Jeff’s wife and the one who had performed initial CPR. Dr. Dughman extended a raised hand toward her, saying, “Give me a high five. You saved his life.”
Dr. Dughman emphasizes the importance of doing CPR compressions while waiting for emergency care to arrive. The compressions take over the pumping mechanism of the heart to get oxygen to the brain and other vital organs. “Starting early CPR with fast, deep compressions to mid breastbone, with minimal interruptions, gives the person a chance for survival,” he says.
He praises Karen’s quick action, which gave Jeff’s body much-needed blood and oxygen until the EMTs took over his care.
Adopting a Healthier Lifestyle
Karen describes Dec. 16, 2018, as Jeff’s second birthday – the day he died and came back to life.
Although Jeff doesn’t remember the details of that day or his time in the hospital, he knows he’s fortunate to be here. He’s made some major lifestyle changes to improve his odds of being around for his wife, six children and 13 grandchildren.
“My life before revolved around a cigarette in the morning, one on the way to work, and smoking about a pack and a half throughout the day,” Jeff says. “I drank coffee and Mountain Dew all day, too.”
Since the heart attack, “I quit smoking and never gave it a second thought. In the past month, I cut back on Mountain Dew and drank more water than in the last five years.” As he works toward a healthier diet, Jeff is now reading food labels, eating more fruits and vegetables and limiting red meat to an occasional strip steak.
“I feel great,” he says.
Jeff goes to cardiac rehab three times a week to increase aerobic activity. He is learning there’s more to being physically fit and heart healthy than working a construction job and doing yard work with a push mower and hand tools.
He recently saw Dr. Dughman for a checkup. “Jeff’s ejection fraction [strength of heartbeat]is almost normal, and his prognosis is good,” Dr. Dughman says. “The chance of surviving cardiac arrest outside the hospital is very low. Jeff was dead at home, and Karen saved him.”
When Jeff finishes his cardiac rehabilitation, he and Karen have promised themselves to take a refresher CPR class. Other family members plan to join them.
The Carrs know the priceless gift of being prepared to save a life at a moment’s notice.
Cardiology Care at St. Elizabeth
Learn more about cardiology services offered at the St. Elizabeth Heart & Vascular Institute.