'Miraculous' recovery after a cardiac arrest: One patient's story
In February 2016, Marci Heinz, 53, was in the middle of a routine hot yoga class when she began to feel dizzy and tired. Fit, active and a frequent practitioner of hot yoga, the fatigue was unusual for her. After a few minutes, Heinz left the class, followed later by a friend who was in the class with her.
"I don't remember any of this happening myself, but apparently I told my friend that it felt like I had a brick on my chest and that I thought I needed to go to the hospital. Right away, she got me in the car," Heinz says.
On the way to the hospital, Heinz suddenly slumped over in the passenger seat unconscious. Her friend, Peggy Haskey, quickly pulled over, called 9-1-1 and began CPR, which she continued until the medics arrived to rush Heinz to MultiCare Good Samaritan Hospital in Puyallup.
Otherwise healthy, with no underlying medical or heart conditions, Heinz had suffered a cardiac arrest in the form of ventricular fibrillation — when the heart's lower chambers quiver instead of contracting to pump blood through the body. In Heinz's case, it was an unusual response to low potassium levels as the result of dehydration.
"If it weren't for Peggy, the medics and Good Samaritan, I wouldn't have made it," Heinz says.
Haskey and subsequently the medics performed CPR on Heinz for at least 10 minutes — a long time by CPR standards — before the medics were able to resuscitate her by shocking her heart with a defibrillator to get it pumping again.
Heinz was then taken to the emergency department at Good Samaritan, where doctors were able to stabilize her. She would remain in the ICU and recovery for three weeks, in hospital rehab for six days, and in outpatient physical therapy for two months before making a full recovery.
"I'm so grateful to the staff at Good Samaritan. They provided me with such excellent care, expertise, kindness, support and dedication. I couldn't have done it without them," Heinz says.
Bumps along the road
During her time in the ICU, Heinz encountered a number of obstacles to recovery, including acute respiratory distress syndrome, swollen vocal cords and fluid buildup in her lungs and other tissues due to sluggish vital organs.
Doctors closely monitored Heinz's blood oxygen saturation, blood pressure, brain function and other important signs while they kept her under mild sedation.
To help minimize the risk of brain damage from the cardiac arrest, doctors initially lowered Heinz's body temperature for 24 hours using a non-invasive medical device that uses chilled pads adhered to a patient's skin.
"The doctors and nurses in the ICU were proactive, skilled and knowledgeable," recounts Heinz's husband, Kurt Heinz.
They expertly navigated each complication she experienced, until finally the extra fluid diminished and Heinz could breathe without the ventilator, he says.
On the right track
After two weeks, Heinz was finally fully conscious and able to speak in a whisper.
"One of the first things I remember is the nurses caring for me and playing with my hair. They had braided it to keep it out of my eyes," she says.
Although her vital signs, brain function and other physical markers looked good, Heinz couldn't walk due to temporary muscle weakness. She also had a paralyzed vocal cord from the ventilator and her thinking was initially slow.
She soon began occupational, physical and speech therapy and had regular meetings with a neurologist.
Although it took a while for Heinz's body functions to catch up, they finally did.
"All of the care I received during my time in rehab was amazing. I now feel like I'm at 100 percent," she says.
Today, Heinz has no sign of any problems or damage to her heart or other organs.
"The cardiologist recently told us that Marci's recovery is miraculous, that most people don't make it through 10 minutes of CPR and a cardiac arrest unscathed," Kurt Heinz says.
This summer, Heinz met another one of her goals: to hike in Yosemite. With her family by her side, she completed a hike with 1,400 feet of elevation gain and 600 granite stairs.
"It was pretty awesome knowing where I was just five months ago. There wasn't a day on that trip that I didn't cry, being with my family and seeing something beautiful. Now I try to live in the moment, just take a deep breath and appreciate what's around me," Heinz says."We're cherishing Marci's recovery every day. Little things just don't matter anymore. We're going to have a great rest of our lives together," her husband adds.