Husband saves wife who went into cardiac arrest with hands-only CPR instructed by a local dispatcher

‘I’m living proof that it works’ says survivor

It’s a day Karen Grams of Ypsilanti doesn’t remember, and one her husband Bobby will never forget. The day her heart just stopped beating.

YPSILANTI, Mich. – It’s a day Karen Grams of Ypsilanti doesn’t remember, and one her husband Bobby will never forget. The day her heart just stopped beating.

“We were having a conversation and apparently, the conversation stopped, and he heard a thud,” said Karen Grams.

Bobby Grams found his wife unresponsive, with no pulse. He called 911. The 911 call, shared with Local 4 by 89.1 WEMU, captured the rescue as it happened.

“She’s on the floor in the living room,” said Bobby Grams.

“Okay, is she breathing at all?” asked Huron Valley Ambulance dispatcher Tim Wilson. “No!” responded Bobby Grams.

Wilson told Grams to start hands-only CPR.

“Now listen carefully, pump her chest hard and fast, at least twice per second. Okay? You’re going to do this about 600 times or until help can take over, okay?” said Wilson.

Bobby Grams began pushing hard in the center of his wife’s chest. As he counted out the compressions, Wilson told Grams he needed to go faster and counted along with him.

Karen Grams began to gasp for air, but she wasn’t breathing effectively. Wilson told Bobby Grams he needed to continue.

“Bob, if she’s gasping for air, she’s not breathing normal,” said Wilson. “We’ve got to keep doing the chest compressions. One, two, three, four, five.”

The 911 call captured Bobby Grams pleading with his wife and he continued to push on her chest.

CPR training resource guide: Why it’s important, how it works, how to get trained

“Karen, Karen, Karen come on,” he said. Wilson reassured him.

“Bob, help is on the way for you. You’re doing a really good job, okay? We’re going to be there for you real soon,” said Wilson. “I hear them. The police are here,” said Bobby Grams.

It’s been eight years since that fateful day. Karen Grams survived and fully recovered. “He literally saved my life,” said Karen Grams.

She was ultimately diagnosed with idiopathic cardiac arrest.

“It’s not like a heart attack where you have a blockage problem,” said Karen Grams. “This is what they call an electrical problem where like a light switch, your heart just stops, which is why CPR is so important. Every second counts.”

It’s a sentiment echoed by medical experts.

“We need to make extraordinary stories like Karen’s more ordinary,” said Dr. Brahmajee Nallamothu, an interventional cardiologist at the University of Michigan.

He said survivors like Karen Grams show how effective hands-only CPR can be.

“I think it really comes down to that fear component. People are really worried that they might make things worse. I think it’s really important to remember that at the time of cardiac arrest, that person is essentially dead, their heart is stopped, and it’s very hard to make things worse in that situation,” said Nallamothu.

According to the American Heart Association, 74% of cardiac arrests outside of a hospital happen at home. To help increase the survival in this situation, Michigan Medicine is co-leading an effort called HeartSafe Home.

“It’s trying to establish a simple plan that individuals can have in their homes in case this type of emergency happens,” said Nallamothu.

Karen and Bobby Grams got matching tattoos to celebrate her second chance. “It shows a flatline, and then the heart, and then the heart beating again,” explained Karen Grams.

She is now devoted to encouraging others to learn hands-only CPR. “I am living proof that it works. That without it, many people have died and will die if they don’t get it,” said Grams.

As for her husband’s efforts that day... “He is my hero. All heroes do not wear capes. He’s clearly my hero,” said Karen Grams. “And anyone that learns CPR might be someone else’s hero.”

To learn hands-only CPR, click here.

Is your home ‘heart safe?” Click here to find out what that means.

HeartSafe Home is holding a video contest to encourage families to have a plan. To learn more, click here.

About the Authors:

Dr. McGeorge can be seen on Local 4 News helping Metro Detroiters with health concerns when he isn't helping save lives in the emergency room at Henry Ford Hospital.