Pam is pictured here with the team that saved her life. Left to right: Greg Brinkly, Pam Christian, Captain Glenn Sekins and Paramedic Jeff Pedersen.
Pam Shares Her Story About Surviving Sudden Cardiac Arrest
Her experience inspired her to start the BLESS YOUR HEART Awareness Campaign for Women “…Helping women everywhere, become aware.”
While this dramatic story is Pam’s, it could be yours…
On September 16, 2002, I went to play tennis with some ladies for the first time. I arrived feeling what seemed to be minor indigestion, which I’d felt for a couple mornings in a row and I just chalked it up to the cantaloupe I’d been eating. I wanted to get all the summer fruit I could before it was gone. Anyway, my friend Terri introduced me to Jill and Debbie. I joined them on the court to warm up. The first ball I hit went over the net. The second ball went into the net and the third ball I hit over to Debbie who was warming up with Terri. It was dreadful.
I couldn’t believe my game. I was so upset with myself because I really wanted to do well, so that they’d invite me to play with them again. I noticed I felt very short of breath, much more than I should have for the amount of exertion, and I was light headed. I announced that I needed to sit down—that I just couldn’t play right now. I’m sure they already deduced…
I sat down for a bit but really wasn’t getting any better. I gathered my things to go home. Terri followed me out to my car, which I resisted because I wanted her to stay and play. I felt bad throwing off a doubles game, but the way I was playing it was better for them if I left. Terri was offering to drive me to my doctor’s office. But I had brand new insurance and didn’t have a primary physician yet, so I thought I’d go home to read what I needed to do. Before I could get to my car, I had to sit down on the curb and within seconds I threw up. Right there in public, I threw up.
The 911 Call
At this time, Terri wanted to call 911 and I resisted and instead accepted her offer to drive me. But when I started to get in her immaculate car I felt too confined and became concerned that I’d get sick in it. My nausea was much worse, my breathing was very shallow and rapid, I was hot and sweaty so I went back toward my car which was parked in the shade and laid down on the cool damp sidewalk. Terri called 911.
By now Jill and Debbie came out. I could hear them saying that someone needed to call my husband and they rummaged through my purse to find my cell phone. I laid there getting even more upset, because now they are not only going to know that I’m tennis impaired, I’m also technology impaired. There were NO phone numbers preprogrammed into my phone. So between breaths, one digit at a time, I gave them my husband’s phone number.
We could hear the sirens of the fire truck and ambulance in the distance. Terri stayed on the phone with the dispatcher and followed his instructions to care for me until the paramedics arrived. Jill and Debbie were praying, but Jill’s prayer was in the form of a song. She sang, “What a friend we have in Jesus.” But in the stress of the situation she couldn’t remember any other words to the song, so she kept singing “What a friend we have in Jesus…” Normally at any other time, I’d join in and help finish the song, but I had my own refrain going which was, “Oh Lord, Oh Lord, Oh Lord.”
The Emergency Sidewalk Scene
The firefighters and paramedic arrived on the scene 6 minutes and 21 seconds after the call to 911. Immediately there was a rush of men in dark blue uniforms scurrying about. One man, Jeff Pedersen, the Paramedic and a Caucasian man, approached me from my left taking my left arm and strapped it to something. He immediately began asking me all sorts of questions, my name, the date, my age, my weight…
I heard him confirm that he would administer 50 cc’s of lidocaine while my other arm was strapped to something else, likely an EKG. I heard Jeff announce that he’d administer an additional 50 cc’s of lidocaine.
Captain Glenn Sekins, also Caucasian, was to my left and Greg Brinkley and Mark Moore, two African-Americans, were above my head and to my right. I think it was Greg who was calling out what he saw taking place from the EKG monitor. I’m told that my condition changed so rapidly that Glenn could barely get it written down. I later learned that from the moment they arrived on scene they administered ADVANCED life support because what they witnessed was me suffering the onset of a sudden cardiac arrest.
Sudden Cardiac Arrest vs. Heart Attack
If you don’t know, you need to know that sudden cardiac arrest is different from a heart attack. A heart attack is where the heart convulses for lack of oxygen. A sudden cardiac arrest is where the heart abruptly stops. I’ve since learned that sudden cardiac arrest is the leading cause of death in north America. Ninety-five percent (95%) of its victims do not survive. In fact, until very recently it was called sudden cardiac death, for obvious reasons. But with the advent of newer medicines and accessibility to defibrillators (zappers) lives have been saved and so the term has been changed to sudden cardiac arrest.
Doctors said that the type of cardiac arrest I suffered was unique. For those who are medically oriented, I had an SVT that originated in the upper chamber that went into a V-T and then into a V-Fib. For the rest of us, it means that the upper and lower chambers of my heart were beating out of sync. In fact the Paramedics witnessed my heart beating around 300 beats per minute. A person my size at full exertion should have a maximum heart beat of about 180.
Well, I was still answering Jeff’s questions when he asked me, “Are you feeling kind of funny?” I remember thinking, “What kind of question is that at a time like this?” I didn’t know it, but he asked that question because the EKG showed that my heart was stopped, but I was still answering his questions! I think that’s a riot. Here I am a professional speaker and I don’t stop talking even when my heart flat-lines!
My Experience with Death
Then immediately I was gone—I died. I’m told that this is the time that my body went into convulsions and flopped on the sidewalk like a fish out of water and turned tomato red. A crowd of onlookers had gathered and the guys were really scurrying about now. They had to get the zip scissors and cut through my clothing so they could access my chest with the defibrillator.
I may have been the one to suffer the cardiac arrest, but Terri, Jill and Debbie were far more traumatized witnessing it than I was. I was no longer in my body. I went to a whole new dimension which was an incredibly peaceful place. It was dark, but not frighteningly dark. It was more a cozy, comforting dark and like a warm brown dark, not a black dark. Off in the distance I could see a thin horizontal white light, but it didn’t beckon me. I loved what I sensed in that place. I had no awareness of any external perimeters. I just felt like I was in the center of whatever I was and that I was in the center of God’s sovereign care. I felt peace and certainty and a ephoria like nothing on earth.
Debbie told me that she was so sensitive to the fact that this was a personal matter for me, with my top cut off, so she turned her back to the scene and kept praying. The ladies next heard someone yell, “CLEAR” and then the defibrillator was activated giving off 200 joules of power. The next thing that Debbie heard was someone yell “BAG HER!” She was immediately incensed and told me she was angered thinking “No! You can’t give up on her yet, you’ve hardly worked on her.” She turned around in upset and saw that there was an oxygen mask on my face. When she heard “Bag her” she thought they meant a body bag… Comes from watching too many ER type programs…
And Back to Life
My heart began beating again. I could hear my name being called and I was so agitated that I was being disturbed! I liked where I was and I didn’t want to be bothered. But Greg Brinkley kept calling me saying, “Pam are you with us, Pam come back to us.” And when I opened my eyes, I saw the face of a black man knelt over me with the clouds and sky beyond that. With my vision a bit blurred and my just being in that incredible place, my first thought was, “What do you know, Jesus is Black…” Now, I know that we’re all made in God’s image so Jesus is every color…
More fully reentering this reality, I recalled what happened and realized it wasn’t Jesus, but Greg Brinkley—one of the men God used to save my life.
Naked On the Sidewalk
About that time, I also sensed that my chest was bare. And realizing that I’m on a public sidewalk and there are a lot of people around, I asked, “Am I naked? Am I naked?” Greg bent down to my ear and said, “Pam, if that’s all we’ve got to worry about, then it’s been a good day.” But having my chest bare in public is not my idea of a good day! He never answered my question so I asked again, “Am I naked?” You must understand, my arms were strapped, I couldn’t use my hands to cover myself!
Well the last thing they want is for a cardiac patient to get upset so they found something to cover me. But, I have yet to figure out how a cardiac patient wouldn’t get upset by the experience of the ambulance ride to the hospital. It was worse than Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride!
In the hospital reflecting on everything, I flashed on the thought that “I have no regrets.” When I realized my thought, I began chastising myself because it was so arrogant. But immediately the Holy Spirit comforted me and allowed me to understand that I have no regrets, not because of how I had lived my life, but because Christ died for me. I had no regrets because I had already placed my faith in Jesus and all my sins were forgiven.
Because of being transferred to a different hospital, I wasn’t given any medical exams until more than 48 hours after the occurrence. The doctors were and are amazed to this day that I suffered what I did. Because my weight is not a concern, I don’t smoke, there’s no immediate history of heart disease in my family, they found no cholesterol or electrical problem with my heart. They have no idea why or specifically what happened.
Finding the Men Who Saved My Life
When I got out of the hospital, I had to find out who the men were that saved my life. Visiting them for the first time, the bond that we shared for the experience was apparent to everyone. We stood around and stared and smiled and it all seemed rather goofy until Jeff asked what the doctors said happened. He wondered aloud if it could have been a particular condition that he named, but before I could respond he said, “But you’re too old for that.” I let it slip. We continued to visit and then Jeff, feeling apologetic said, “By the way, I’m sorry that I had to cut your top off, you really didn’t like that.” And again before I could speak, Captain Sekins stepped in being very “captainly” and added, “But, Pam you have to know we’re professionals and under the circumstances, it really wasn’t all that memorable.”
I turned to my friend who took me to the station and said, “Swell. First they tell me I’m too old, then they tell me I’m not all that memorable.”
When it came time to leave Captain Sekins said to me, “You’re coming to see us has made our day.” I looked him in the eyes and replied, “Glen, don’t you understand? You’re coming to see me has made the rest of my life!”
Learn about Pam’s heart disease awareness campaign, Bless Your Heart Campaign, “Helping Women Everywhere Become Aware.”