Cardiac arrest survivor shares important lessons about near-death experience

More than 44% of women age 20 and older are living with some form of heart disease

During WDIV Heart Month, Local 4 will bring you stories we hope will spread awareness and inspire you to work on better health.

For instance, did you know more than 44% of women age 20 and older are living with some form of heart disease?

It’s been 17 years since Molly Ann Nagelli nearly lost her life.

She was just 25.

“It all started with me feeling a pain between my shoulder blades in my back,” said Nagelli. “It was a pain that I just wasn’t comfortable with, and it persisted.”

Nagelli went to one emergency room but was discharged.

“I knew something was seriously wrong, still,” Nagelli said. “So I went to another emergency room, and they did a chest X-ray and saw that I had pneumonia.”

The doctor gave Nagelli antibiotics and told her to return if she felt worse. She did.

“The last thing I really remember is calling my mom to tell her that I didn’t feel okay,” said Nagelli.

At the hospital, Nagelli’s heart stopped beating.

Her mother, Liz Derrick, rushed to her side.

“She was blue, and they were working on her,” said Derrick. “I knew that we were in trouble.”

After receiving the news, Nagelli’s loved ones gathered in the waiting room.

“The main doctor that worked on Molly came out and said, ‘I’m so sorry, but we’ve lost her a few times, and she’s come back,’” Derrick said. “He said, ‘I don’t know how she’s alive, but she is.’ I went in, and I sat next to her, and I just told her to fight. I told her she’s made it this far, and she’s got to fight. I told her we’re all going to be here, and that was her job.”

Nagelli was in critical condition. Doctors wanted to life-flight her to the University of Michigan for more advanced care, but the smaller hospital’s helipad was under construction and unusable.

The hospital contacted the Board of Education to get permission to land the medical helicopter at the nearest football field.

“They had to get a special ambulance just to drive her less than a quarter of a mile from the hospital because the football field is not far,” Derrick said. “They prepared us and made us say goodbye to her because the life flight could’ve killed her even.”

Nagelli’s family drove to the football field and formed a big horseshoe to watch as the helicopter landed.

“They transported her up and away,” Derrick said.

At Michigan Medicine, doctors discovered Nagelli was suffering from viral cardiomyopathy. Essentially, a virus had attacked and severely damaged her heart. She had also suffered a brain injury from lack of oxygen.

“My family had to make a difficult decision, and my parents actually had to go to court to petition to be my guardians,” Nagelli said. “I had no medical power of attorney at 25 because, at 25, you don’t think you need a medical power of attorney.”

“We want Molly to live, but if her heart stopped again and again (coded), we wanted to have an opportunity to be her voice,” Derrick said. “And I think that that’s what important here is that nobody thinks that at 25, let alone 18 that these things can happen.”

“When I woke up, I could not walk, I could not talk, I could not feed myself, and I had no idea, no memory of the previous year,” said Nagelli. “And no idea why I was in the hospital.”

It was thought that Nagelli would need a heart transplant, but she steadily improved.

“My heart actually recovered rather miraculously,” Nagelli said.

But doctors had devastating news.

“My heart was in a condition that would not be able to support having children, and hearing that at 25 is devastating,” Nagelli said.

But Nagelli fought hard to recover, and with careful monitoring during each pregnancy, she and her husband were able to have three beautiful daughters safely.

“They are my everything,” said Nagelli. “I am so blessed to have them, and they are great children. Becoming a mom was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done. But the most worth-it thing that I’ve ever done.”

Nagelli hopes her story will encourage others to advocate for their health.

“You need to trust your gut,” Nagelli said. “I knew that something physically was wrong with me, and I did not give up seeking medical treatment until they heard me.”

Nagelli’s mother hopes other parents can learn from her experience and encourage their children to designate a medical power of attorney when they turn 18.

“Have the discussion,” Derrick said. “They can change it whenever they want, but get it done.”

Nagelli and her mother said they were both so grateful.

“It’s a joy to have her in my life,” Derrick said. “We are blessed in so many ways. Even for the challenges we’ve had, we are so blessed.”

“Having survived this, the air I breath is a little bit sweeter,” Nagelli said. “And I appreciate my family so much more.”

To learn more about women’s heart healthclick here.

To learn hands-only CPRclick here.