This blog is authored by Stacey Hittle, a hospital Medical Intensive Care Unit and Critical Care registered nurse. Even though she is familiar with CPR, she never expected to learn about its value in such a personal way. Below is her story.   

 It was February 24, 2017, and my husband, David, and I were both at work. It was a day like any other. Our 15-year-old son, Justin, was at home with our other kids and a friend. The kids were in the backyard playing with a lacrosse ball. Completely normal.

Justin with some of the friends who helped save his life when he went into cardiac arrest.

What happened next was, in essence, a “perfect storm.” It turns out that Justin suffered commotio cordis, or cardiac arrest caused by a blunt impact to the chest. It is exceedingly rare, with only about 10 to 20 cases a year. It was almost always fatal until recently, when resuscitation has worked in up to one-third of cases. Essentially, my son’s heart just stopped. No pulse, no heartbeat. Nothing.

The chances of this happening are less than those of being struck by lightning.

Thankfully, the other children acted immediately instead of freezing in fear. His friend called 9-1-1 while my daughter called my husband. That second call proved fateful, as my husband was able to get in touch with a neighbor who ran over and started CPR. That CPR kept blood circulating to Justin’s vital organs until first responders arrived.

The paramedics were quickly able to shock Justin’s heartbeat rhythm back to normal. But he suffered complications, and he was admitted to the hospital for acute respiratory distress syndrome caused by a collapsed lung. His body couldn’t oxygenate as it needed to, even with a ventilator. The doctors had to insert chest tubes to re-inflate his lungs and aid his breathing.

Justin and the neighbor who helped save his life, just prior to a community CPR training at the local fire department.

In total, Justin was in the hospital for 10 days, and he has now made a full recovery.

Since then, I’ve found myself changed as a parent. There is more worry now. This was such a freak incident that it feels like anything can happen to the kids. So, we’re doing what we can to be proactive.

Earlier this year, Justin took part in a community education event with our fire department teaching Hands-Only CPR to the public. At least 100 participants showed up, and Justin shared his story as the face of why CPR is so important. At a local university where I work as a nurse lecturer, I’ve volunteered to join the CPR and AED first aid training orientation for incoming freshman.

Justin (center, in blue t-shirt) participates in a community CPR training with the local fire department.

David and I feel very fortunate to still have our son with us. If the kids didn’t know to call 9-1-1, he wouldn’t be here. If our neighbor didn’t know CPR, Justin wouldn’t be here.

I encourage everyone to take the time to learn CPR. You could save a life – maybe the life of someone you love.

Cardiac arrest often comes without warning. Everything will be normal right up until the point it isn’t. You have to know what to do.

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