The last thing I remember of my poetry residency at Colleton County Middle School was getting an elevator key. The next thing was seeing a strange ceiling, which turned out to be in an intensive care unit, over a week later. I was told I was talking to a teacher when I flat-lined. The diagnosis: idiopathic asymptomatic sudden cardiac death.
In fact, I died twice, but I’m still here. Two incredible school nurses and a resource officer used CPR and an AED to somehow keep me alive. I was air-lifted to a major medical center, where I was unconscious and on life support for over a week, given no chance for survival. I made the medical journals, because against all odds, I had a miraculous recovery.
My heart failed and left me with a low ejection fraction. I now have an implanted defibrillator, and I’m continuing cardiac rehabilitation. I did not have a heart attack; in fact, my heart cath showed my arteries are perfect. And I had no risk factors of any kind. Without the AED and CPR, I wouldn’t be here.
I was an American Heart Association (AHA) red dress volunteer before, and I’ve been a crusader and You’re the Cure advocate ever since. Through AHA’s You’re the Cure, I’ve been able to serve as a survivor/spokesperson to provide testimony about the pending CPR bill that will assure every student gets trained before graduating, and had an Op-Ed I wrote ("A School Saved My Life”) published to help educate the public on the issue. I'm in close contact with my legislators, who have been wonderful, and I've also contacted my county council, as well as the school board in Richland 2, my home district. I try to respond to all the You’re the Cure alerts and customize the legislator letters with my story.
Colleton County (where I collapsed) School Board and County Council voted to put defibrillators in every school in the county (including some small rural schools) in my honor.
I'm on a mission now. My cardiac event happened on February 1, 2012, on AHA’s National Wear Red Day. This year, my cousins had a party for me on my “heart-iversary.” A few days later, I learned that on 2/2/13, the school principal, who’s now in another district, was having a robotics tournament on the athletic field when a woman collapsed and was revived with an AED.
Every school should have an AED and trained people teaching CPR. The cost is minimal, and the rewards are priceless. It’s called LIFE.