On May 16, Norma Anderson was on an uneventful drive home from Greensboro with her family—until she reached Franklin County. On U.S. Route 220, Anderson, 58, suffered a heart attack.
Her daughter and the driver of the car, Tara Williams, saw Anderson pass out and immediately pulled over. "I got out and started jumping up and down trying to get help," says Williams. "Then a car stopped and a woman ran up. She gave my mom CPR until others arrived."
That woman was Shannon Barber, a nuclear medicine technologist at Carilion Clinic. Although she'd been certified in CPR for 18 years, Barber had yet to put her skills to use.
"My husband and I were traveling out of town to pick up our children when we saw the vehicle pulled over with frantic-looking passengers," says Barber. "We decided to turn around and head back to their location."
"I asked what was wrong and was told something had happened to their mother. Ms. Anderson at that point was in her seat, unresponsive with no palpable pulse. Her daughters quickly lowered her out of the van onto the ground, where I began CPR."
Williams, meanwhile, called 911. "I didn't know where we were exactly," Williams says. "I told them we were somewhere on 220 near a bridge."
With only this to go on, Franklin County police and EMS providers in Carilion Clinic's Heart Alert program began searching for them.
Police Sergeant Dan Hale and Deputy Brian Garland were the first to arrive. "I saw an unresponsive woman on the ground," Hale says, "so I quickly got out the portable defibrillator in my car and used it on her. As soon as I shocked her, she regained consciousness."
(It was the first time Franklin County police had saved anyone with an automated external defibrillator.)
But Anderson wasn't out of the woods yet. She again lost her pulse, and Sgt. Hale had to use the defibrillator a few more times.
When the EMS specialists arrived, they rushed Anderson to Carilion Franklin Memorial Hospital in Rocky Mount, where physicians were able to stabilize her.
Carilion Clinic's Life-Guard 10 helicopter was then called, and it sped Anderson to Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital. There cardiologist Alan McLuckie, M.D. of Heart of Virginia Cardiology cleared her blockage, and the hospital's Catheterization Laboratory provided support and follow-up.
Anderson was placed on a ventilator for three days, and she remained in the hospital for nearly two weeks.
Commemorating Her Survival
During the summer, everyone who helped save Anderson met to commemorate her recovery. The EMS crew, Sgt. Hale, the dispatcher on duty, the Life-Guard 10 crew-to name a few-gathered and acknowledged the quick responses that had led to her life being saved.
Anderson was overwhelmed-and couldn't hold back her tears of joy. 'I can't thank everyone enough,' she kept repeating as she hugged one person after another.
To this day, Anderson says she remembers nothing about her heart attack or its immediate aftermath.
"It was nice to meet her," Sgt. Hale says. "We salute at a lot of funerals, but this was a good time, where we could smile and meet a person." Barber, who performed the CPR, was also touched. "Out of tragedy comes new life, new friendships, and new beginnings," she says.
Every 34 seconds, someone in the U.S. has a heart attack, according to the American Heart Association. But tens of thousands do survive each year-and return to work and enjoy a normal life.
That has been the case for Anderson.
Fall 2010 / Winter 2011