Wife Saves Husband’s Life with CPR at Home
"Jeff was dead at home, and Karen saved him," says cardiologist.
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 laid 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.
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.