Survivors club shares lifesaving lessons

Sudden cardiac arrest survivors gather to support each other and raise awareness

By Sarah Mayberry, M.P.H. - Producer

ROYAL OAK, Mich. - It's a club like no other-- made up of people who died and lived to tell about it.

They are the ten percent.  The fortunate few who cheated sudden cardiac arrest.

Each month, survivors and their loved ones gather at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak to share their stories and struggles and discuss how to save others.

"I have the records from each hospital that show I was deceased at their hospital.  I was deceased at the other hospital.  I was deceased when the EMS came.  I was dead, they all thought, and here I sit," said one member of the group.

They are young and old.  Men and women.  No one would ever guess the thread that ties them together.  Few can truly understand.

"When someone is standing over you saying, 'Stay with us, stay with us,' and are saying your name, and you're like, 'Oh this must be serious,'" shared another member.

Beaumont emergency medicine physician Dr. Kelly Sawyer leads the group.

"They feel very isolated having gone through something so traumatic and not knowing nayone else who'd been through the same thing," said Sawyer.  "They're able to share their stories with others and help each other with issues they might be experiencing."

Their stories are different, but many share a common theme.

"I had no symptoms, nothing," said one man.   Many others nodded.

Jeff Oldenburg of Clarkston is part of the group.  His daughter Chesney was just 17 years old when her heart suddenly stopped beating.

"It was the first day of her senior year.  It was the first day back after summer break and the bell rang, and she got up from her desk and walked into the hallway and she just collapsed," said Oldenburg.  "Fortunately, it was witnessed, so the vice principal started CPR on her.  They didn't just save Chesney that day, they saved a whole family."

Leslie Bishop from Wyandot was also at school, teaching 7th grade Spanish at Brownstown Middle School.
"I collapsed at my desk, fell forward," said Bishop.  "The kids didn't know what was going on, so luckily they went and got help.  They called 911, and we think the principal started CPR."

Andrea D'Amore-Braver is from Troy.  She was out to dinner with a friend in Royal Oak when she suffered her sudden cardiac arrest.

"It all went black and according to her, I started turning purple.  She just screamed for someone to dial 911.  I was fortunate that two men both came to my resuce, and they performed CPR," said D'Amore-Braver.  "I owe those guys absolutely everything.  I can't believe how fortunate I was."

Kristin Brancheau from Dexter was also lucky to have rescuers nearby.

"I was at my 3-year-old daughter's dance recital on December 9, 2007," said Brancheau.  "Apparently, I just flipped right over and quit breathing.  Fortunately, there were two parents there that were cardiologists and two nurses there.  The two cardiologists took turns doing CPR on me for 13 minutes until the first responders got there with an AED and were able to shock me.  I understand how fortunate I am to be here every day."

So why did this group survive when so many do not?

Most collapsed in a public place.  Almost all received immediate CPR.  Many were treated with an AED.

"They were lucky in the sense that someone acted when they needed help and they also received really good medical care," said Sawyer.

"The people that are here today, the survivors, it's a miracle that they're here," said Oldenburg.  "I used to teach CPR and someone did CPR on my daughter.  It's crazy.  I think of it, and it still doesn't seem real."

The group said because most people who suffer sudden cardiac arrest do not survive, they feel a responsibility to speak out.  But it's not always easy.

"I put something on Facebook today that everyone should learn CPR, and I've gotten like 7 likes," said Brancheau.  "Whereas anything about the kids or anything else, you get like 800 likes."

They are the ten percent, but they know, there could be so many more.

"Anyone can have a cardiac arrest at any age, and if someone knows CPR, it increases their chances of survival," said Oldenburg.

"If more people would act quickly and perform CPR to the best of their ability and more places had AEDs, there would be more survivors like me," said D'Amore-Braver.

To learn more about the Michigan chapter of the Sudden Cardiac Arrest Association, click here.  

You can also contact the group by emailing SCAAMichiganChapter@gmail.com.

To learn hands-only CPR, click here

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