A Second Chance - One Patient's Story at the Maxwell Blum Emergency Pavilion
45-year-old, Laura Geraghty never imagined how quickly her life would change when she woke up on April 1, 2009.
“I got up that morning and got ready for work like any other day,” says Laura. “I was feeling fine and didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary.”
Laura, then a school bus driver for a private transportation company, started her regular morning route transporting her passengers – wheelchair-bound, special-needs children.
“I remember I was coming back to the school after dropping off some student volunteers at Newton-Wellesley Hospital,” says Laura. “Little did I know I would be back within hours.”
When Laura arrived back at the school, she starting experiencing sharp pains in her stomach.
Having a Heart Attack
“I had pulled the bus up to the school and was talking to one of the teacher’s aids when I started feeling intense pain – like indigestion,” she says. “A few minutes later I felt a massive pain shoot up my left arm and travel into my chest. I knew in that minute that something wasn’t right. I knew I was having a heart attack.”
From that point forward the details of the day are hard for Laura to remember. Soon after experiencing the pain she started having difficulty breathing and was slipping in and out of consciousness.
“I remember I called my boss and told her that I was having a heart attack and she immediately called 911. Then it became really hard for me to breathe,” says Laura. “It’s hard to recall what happened, but I can remember the school nurse and the CPR instructor at the high school bringing out a gym mat to put me on. I also remember telling them not to cut my Red Sox sweatshirt!”
Within minutes Laura was unconscious and in cardiac arrest. While the school nurse and the CPR instructor waited for the ambulance to arrive, they performed CPR and also used the automated external defibrillator (AED).
“Before the paramedics arrived, they shocked me three times with the AED and continued CPR until the ambulance got there,” says Laura. “During the ride to Newton-Wellesley, the paramedics shocked me six more times to keep my heart beating. When I arrived at the Hospital, I was code blue – my blood pressure was 0 over 0.”
When Laura arrived at Newton-Wellesley’s Emergency Department, she was in cardiac arrest.
“When Laura arrived I was not hopeful about the outcome,” says Bill O’Callahan, MD, Physician in the Emergency Department. “She had a significantly prolonged downtime and multiple attempts at defibrillation. Usually, the longer the downtime, the worse the outcome.”
One Last Shock
After trying 11 times to shock Laura back to life, Dr. O’Callahan thought it might be time to stop.
“I remember thinking that I would try one more time and with that final try – Laura came back,” says Dr. O’Callahan. “It is extremely out of the ordinary for a patient to come back after being down that long – and even more extraordinary that she had no neurological damage.”
Through Newton-Wellesley’s partnership with Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), Dr. O’Callahan was able to quickly transfer Laura to the Cardiac Catheterization Lab at MGH. “Our Emergency Department has a terrific relationship with MGH,” adds Dr. O’Callahan. “Once we knew that Laura was stabilized, we arranged to have her transferred for a procedure in their Cath Lab.”
A Miraculous Outcome
As an Emergency Department physician, Dr. O’Callahan has resuscitated many patients but has never seen a recovery like Laura’s.
“You won’t find many physicians who have experienced an outcome like this,” says Dr. O’Callahan. “I never thought after being down for close to an hour that Laura would come back and return to live her life in full capacity without any neurological damage. I am happy I was there that day to help in whatever way I could.”
Laura is also thankful for the care that Dr. O’Callahan provided when she arrived at Newton-Wellesley Hospital.
“Who would ever believe that you can come back from death and live? I can’t imagine what was going though their minds when they got a heartbeat back,” adds Laura. “Dr. O’Callahan and the team of outstanding nurses that worked on me never gave up. I have them all to thank for my life. They truly went above the call of duty to keep me alive.”
After her procedure at MGH, Laura remained in a medication-induced coma for three days. “I was in the hospital for nine days. I remember I was up walking around after six days,” says Laura. “I was determined to get better, but the recovery process was tough. I questioned why this happened to me. I had always been healthy. I had my regular check ups.”
After later evaluation, it was determined that Laura’s heart attack was the result of a blood clot that caused a 100 percent blockage in the LAD coronary artery.
“Though parts of my recovery have been difficult, I am thankful every day to be able to wake up and live my life. It’s a miracle I made it.”
Laura's New Mission
Since her heart attack, Laura has been encouraging others about the importance of learning CPR. She hopes that through her experience, she can help save another life by sharing her story.
“I have taken on a new mission to go into schools and other places in the community to tell my story and create awareness for how important and effective CPR can be,” says Laura. “It can save lives. We will have more miracle stories like mine if more people learn CPR.”
Now, eight months after her heart attack, Laura is taking the time to enjoy the simple things in life.
“An experience with death really makes you look differently at your life,” says Laura. “Material things really mean nothing… what’s important is helping to change other people’s lives for the better. There is nothing more important than telling people you love them and spending time together.”
For more information about Emergency Services at Newton-Wellesley Hospital, call CareFinder at 1-866-NWH-DOCS (694-3627) or visit our website at www.nwh.org/emergency.
Bill O’Callahan, MD Physician, Emergency Department at Newton-Wellesley Hospital
Dr. O’Callahan is board certified in emergency medicine. He received his medical degree from the University of Massachusetts Medical School and served as chief resident in their emergency medicine residency program.
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