Saving a life with CCR (Continuous Chest Compression)
A healthy life is and will continue to remain a medical mystery. Some live while others die from a similar incident without rhyme or reason and it can’t be explained in simple terms.
No one in my family had ever had a heart condition and to have one was a distant thought at best. Growing into the entertainment industry all of my adult life brought many friends and fan from all over the world. As an actor, filmmaker and author I receive several hundred emails daily. Most I scan over quickly and delete or I would do nothing all day but read emails.
Two weeks before the incident occurred, an unknown friend had emailed me a medical report stating that chest compressions were better than CPR and that the survival rate was greatly improved because chest compressions not only massaged the heart but sent blood into the brain, thus preventing brain damage.
To this day I have no idea why I read this particular email, but I did. Perhaps it was my writer brain working overtime to create a medical plot for one of my stories, and then again maybe not.
Our day was one of those glorious normal events where everything goes smoothly, you laugh, share some nice moments and retire.
At precisely 4:05 a.m. on October 29, 2009, I heard my wife Dianne say, "I think I'm having a heart attack."
I opened my eyes, glanced at the clock, and then saw her standing in the bathroom doorway. She grabbed her chest, took one step and collapsed on the bed.
It only took seconds for the blood to drain from my wife’s face. I watched her turn gray and saw her eyes roll up when she stopped breathing. There was no way I was going to let her go without a fight. That’s when I remembered reading that article about the heart.
Calmly I started chest compressions, rapid and continual. I continued for a minute, although it felt like an hour, until she started breathing again. I sat her up, placed an aspirin beneath her tongue and called 911. The commotion woke our adult son from the other side of the house and he came to assist.
When the paramedics arrived, Dianne's blood pressure was 56/31 and fading. They transported her to the hospital, where I was told her chance of survival was less than 20%.
Five hours later, after the doctors placed two stents in her blocked arteries and put her on blood thinners, she started bleeding. There was so much blood they couldn’t find the bleeders and I was told she was bleeding out. I begged the doctors not to give up and as exhausted as they were they refused to quit. By morning they not only found the bleeders, they were successful in stopping them.
That night, one of the doctors came in to visit. He said my wife was proof that miracles happen, as she hadn't been expected to make it this far. He told us to hold her hand and tell her how much we loved her and that we wanted her to come home.
They moved Dianne from the Emergency Heart Unit to the ICU, where she remained for the next seven days.
The first two days, she teetered between life and death as her blood pressure slowly regained some strength. On the third day, her pressure rose and the doctor told me she had a 60% chance of survival. He also told me I had saved her life with the chest compressions.
On the fifth day she opened her eyes. Her blood pressure was up to 65/45. They removed the external pacemaker and the heart pump. She was on her own and all we could do was watch and pray. On the sixth day, they removed the ventilator and she started talking.
I met with all of the doctors who had worked on Dianne. Each one had saved her life, and each one told me that without the initial chest compressions, she wouldn't have made it.
On the eighth day they moved her to the heart ward. She was awake and speaking clearly, yet she had trouble with her motor skills. The doctor refused to release her until she regained enough strength and had better motor skills. After a two-week hospital stay, Dianne came home.
The doctors were amazed. She had no major heart damage, and absolutely no brain damage thanks to the chest compressions.
Once home, Dianne continued to receive therapy for the next six weeks. With constant work, she has regained her strength and all of her motor skills. Now she uses a hand-held breathing machine and works out with limited weights. We celebrated Thanksgiving together, and our Christmas took on a whole new meaning of how precious life is.
We have Dr. Gordon Ewy, director of the Sarver Heart Center at the University of Arizona in Tucson, to thank. He's the cardiologist who spearheaded the early trials of continuous chest compression - or CCR, as he calls it - more than 15 years ago. He now teaches firefighters and paramedics the technique. Dr. Ewy says their survival rate has increased by 300% since beginning the new training. In 2000, the American Heart Assn. named him a "CPR Giant" in recognition of his work. Today many firefighters and paramedics use CCR on many cases depending on what caused the person to stop breathing in the first place.
I have Dianne back, and I continue to adore each and every day we share together. We've been together since we were 16 years old, and last year we celebrated our fiftieth wedding anniversary. We hope by sharing our story it might save someone else's life or prevent another survivor from having brain damage.
Originally I wrote this article for the Los Angeles Times and all of their other newspaper syndications.
I have spent my entire life writing articles, novels and short stories about various subject matters ranging from crime and detective, action, true, children and family stories. My motion pictures have also covered a lot of ground in various genres.
When my wife survived her heart attack I realized we have lived a rather unconventional life with so many twists and turns it was hard to share or explain so I wrote a mini biography The Hard Way – http://tinyurl.com/86hgtz4
Posted March 1, 2012 by William Byron Hillman
My web site: http://williamhillman.com
My Amazon author’s page: http;//tinyurl.com/7yzsqm6
My latest novel is Veronique and Murray (a romantic mystery)