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Sudden Cardiac Arrest: A Survivor's Story

Air Date 02/10/2016

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Author and speaker Pamela Christian shares the story of her near-death experience, encouraging listeners to consider the brevity of life and settle the question of their eternal destiny by placing their faith in Jesus Christ.

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Episode Transcript

Opening:

John Fuller: Today on "Focus on the Family," we'll take a somewhat humorous look at a pretty serious subject, sudden cardiac arrest.

Excerpt:

Pamela Christian: The next thing that she heard was someone yell, "Bag her!" And she's thinking, "You can't do that!" (Laughter) "You can't give up on her now. (Laughter) You've hardly worked on her! (Laughter) You can't possibly bag her now." And she turns around and she looks and she sees an oxygen bag on my face. (Laughter)

End of Excerpt

John: All right, so if you saw a friend go into cardiac arrest, you might not be thinking so clearly either. Thanks for joining us today for "Focus on the Family." Your host is Focus president Jim Daly and I'm John Fuller.

Jim Daly: Man, I can't imagine the stress of that kind of situation, John. Our guest today is Pamela Christian and she is going to share her story of surviving a sudden cardiac arrest and that's a type of heart attack that usually has no warning signs. And let me say, this is just one woman's perspective and we're not trying to give you medical advice here. But we do want to raise your awareness of a condition that kills about 350,000 people a year here in the U.S. and since February is National Heart Awareness Month, this seemed like a good time to share Pam's story, which also has some deep spiritual application points and you're gonna hear that in a few minutes.

John: Well, let's go ahead and hear now from Pam Christian, as she spoke to a group of women at Mount Hermon Christian Conference Center, describing a warm September day in Southern California, when she was 47-years-old and life changed.

Body:

Pamela: I started to play tennis with some girlfriends for the first time. I hadn't played tennis with these ladies before, you know. And I arrived feeling a little bit nervous, well, a lot nervous, okay, because I really wanted to do well. I wanted them to invite me back to play with them again. It was important to me that I could establish a new group of women to play tennis with.

So my friend Terry introduced me to Jill and to Debbie--two ladies I'd never met before and I joined them on the court to warm up and the first ball that I hit went over the fence, not the net, the fence. (Laughter) The second ball I hit went (Sound, Phfft) into the net. The third ball that I hit, went over to Jill who was warming up with Terry. I was supposed to be warming up with Debbie. (Laughter)

I was mortified and I realized how dreadful this was for me in terms of my tennis reputation. (Laughter) I figured right away they would probably never again ask me to play tennis with them. And at the same time I'm thinking all these thoughts, I realized I'm feeling rather short of breath and a little light headed and too much for the amount of exertion that I had already given. So, I announced I really couldn't play tennis, which was probably, obvious at that time (Laughter) and I went over to sit down to calm myself down. I figured I had just gotten myself terribly emotionally worked up, wanting to do a good job.

So anyway I sat down, but I really wasn't getting any better. So I gathered my things and I announced that I was going to go home and Terry followed me out toward my car, which I resisted, because I thought, " Gosh , I'd already interrupted the game enough. Please at least play a threesome. Don't let me interrupt any further.

But before I could actually get all the way into my car, around toward the front of my car at the curb, where it was parked, I threw up. Right there in public, I threw up. Well, at this time Terry offered to call 911 and I resisted, instead saying, "You know, don't do that" and so she then said, " Let me at least drive you to the hospital" and I thought, "Well, perhaps, that makes sense at this point in time."

And then I went over to her beautiful, red sporty car (Laughter) that was so immaculate inside. Opened the door and started to get in. Realizing I would feel a little bit confined in it, I thought, oh no (Laughter). I do not want to make a mess of her beautiful red little car. My nausea was getting worse and so was my shortness of breath and my dizziness, so was my perspiration. I was rather hot and sweaty, so I walked back over to my car where it was parked, because it was in the shade and all I wanted to do was lay down on the sidewalk, that was still damp. It was early morning. I just wanted to lie down on that cold sidewalk in the shade.

And at this time Terry called 911. Well, by now Jill and Debbie had come out from the courts and I could hear them saying that someone needed to call my husband. And I could hear also that they were rummaging around through my purse looking for my cell phone. And so, I laid there thinking, "Swell, now I don't only admit that I'm tennis impaired; I'm also technology impaired, because I have, no phone numbers programmed into my cell phone. (Laughter)

So between breaths and I was very short of breath, (Sound of breath), one digit (Sound of breath) at a time, I gave them my husband's phone number. They called my husband and of course 911 had already been dispatched. And we could hear sirens off in the distance. Terry stayed on the phone with the dispatcher, following his instructions to care for me until they arrived. And Jill and Debbie were praying for me. Gratefully, I was with three Christian sisters who knew what to do first and foremost and that was to pray.

Well the firefighters and the paramedic arrived on the scene, 6 minutes and 21 seconds after the call was made to 911. Immediately, there was a rush of men in dark blue uniforms scurrying all about. One man, Jeff Peterson, the paramedic, approached me from my left side, taking my arm and strapping it to something; I don't know what.

And he immediately began asking me all sorts of questions to get an understanding of my level of consciousness and things like that. He asked me what was the date, what was the day of week, what is your name, what is your age, what is your weight? (Laughter) That is the only time I ever admitted my weight in public.

And from the moment that they arrived on the scene, they began administering advanced life support. That's how serious of a condition they found me in. Captain Glen Seakins and Jeff Peterson were two Caucasian men who were there at the scene. They were to my left and Greg Brinkley and Mark Moore happened to be African-American men were to my right, all of them working on me. And I think it was Greg who was calling out what he thought taking place on the EKG. And I'm told that my condition was changing so fast, so rapidly that Captain Glen Seakins, could barely write it down. Now for those who are medically oriented, what they witnessed was a sudden cardiac arrest that originated in the upper chamber of my heart. The particular documentation progression showed a ventricular tachycardia that went into a ventricular fibrillation.

For the rest of us who don't know what in the world that means, (Laughter) it means that the upper and lower chambers of my heart were working very erratically, beating out of sync. It wasn't normal. (Chuckling) And the paramedics witnessed my heart beating around 300 beats per minute. For someone my size, the maximum exertion, if I was playing tennis on a good day, would be about 180 beats per minute.

Now I've since learned that a study in New York City, of five percent of the witnessed ventricular fibrillation victims, that one to two percent of cardiac arrest victims survive. The fact that my new friends called 911 and immediately began prayer, allowed the emergency professionals to arrive on the scene and to witness the cardiac arrest and to be in place to save my life. That's why I'm able to stand here and testify to you about the goodness of God and the truth about life after death.

Program Note:

John: You're listening to Pam Christian on today's "Focus on the Family" and in a few minutes, you'll hear what she experienced when her heart actually stopped beating. And you can get a CD of this program to share with a friend when you call 800-A-FAMILY; 800-232-6459 or get an instant download and our mobile app at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio. Let's return now to Pam Christian on today's "Focus on the Family."

End of Program Note

Pamela: You see, a sudden cardiac arrest is very different than a heart attack. A heart attack is where the heart convulses because the vessels that supply blood or oxygen to the heart are blocked. A heart attack can go into a cardiac arrest, but a sudden cardiac arrest is where the heart abruptly stops. And until very recently, it was actually called "sudden cardiac death," because virtually no one survived. Those few who did survive suffered increased degrees of brain damage for every minute that they were gone.

But with the advent of newer medications and the accessibility to defibrillators--you know the zappers--lives have been saved. And so, the term has been changed to "sudden cardiac arrest." Well, I was still answering Jeff's questions, when he asked me, "Are you feeling kind of funny?" (Laughter) I thought, "What kind of a question is that to ask at a time like this? Aren't you the paramedic?" (Laughter) I didn't know it, but what he was observing on the EKG was that my heart had stopped, but I was still answering his questions. (Laughter) And I think that's a riot. (Laughter) I'm a public speaker for goodness sakes! (Laughter)

But as immediately as I had the thought, "So what kind of a question is that? I was gone. That's when I died. And I'm told that this is the time that my body went into convulsions and flopped on the sidewalk, a lot like a fish out of water and turned tomato red for lack of oxygen. Now a crowd of onlookers had gathered and the guys were really scurrying about now I'm told, because they had to get the zip scissors so they could cut right down through my clothing and get access to my chest.

Woman in audience: Oh boy! (Laughter)

Pamela: A woman after my own heart. (Laughter) Now I may have been the one to suffer the sudden cardiac arrest, but my friends, Terry, Jill and Debbie were the ones who were truly traumatized as they witnessed all of this, because you see, I was no longer in my body. I went to a whole new dimension, which was incredibly peaceful. It was dark where I was, but not a frightening dark. It wasn't a black dark, it was more of a oh, charcoal gray or a warm brown dark. (Laughter) Maybe something of what it would be like to be in the mother's womb. I did see a thin horizontal white light off in the distance, but it did not beckon me and that's fine, because I was perfectly content right where I was. It was an incredibly peaceful place. I loved where I was and I sensed that I was in the very center of the sovereignty of God. Nothing else mattered, nothing. I just knew I was in the center of God's care.

Now Debbie told me that she was so sensitive to the fact that they had to cut my top off and so, it became a very personal and private type matter for me, that she turned her back to me, but kept praying. And I thought that was really sweet. You know, can't you just imagine her doing that? So as her back was turned and she's hearing them still work on me, she hears somebody yell out, "Clear!" because they're getting ready to get the defibrillators out. And then she heard the defibrillator activating, which gave off 200 Jules of power.

The next thing that Debbie heard was someone yell, "Bag her!" and she's thinking, "You can't do that (Laughter); you can't give up on her now. You've hardly worked on her! (Laughter) You can't possibly bag her now." And she turns around and she looks and she sees an oxygen bag on my face. (Laughter) You know, she was thinking body bag. (Laughter) And she admits to watching too many of those ER-type programs. (Laughter)

Well, my heart began beating again. It responded to the very first treatment of defibrillation. And I could hear my name being called. And I was so agitated that anyone would disturb me. (Laughter) I liked where I was. I did not want to be bothered. I was experiencing the sovereignty of God. I experienced the fact that He's omnipresent; He's everywhere. I knew I had a husband and children, but they were also in God's care. They would be fine. I knew they'd grieve if I wasn't with them, but you know, I didn't want to be bothered with even thinking about all these things, 'cause I could experience the sovereign and the care and the love of God right where I was.

But Greg Brinkley kept calling my name (Laughter). "Pam, Pam, are you with us? Pam, Pam, come back. Pam!" And I opened my eyes and the first thing I saw was the face of a Black man knelt over me and beyond that, I saw the sky and the clouds and I thought "Jesus is Black." (Laughter and Clapping)

My vision cleared and I realized and gathered senses as to where I was. (Laughter) Now we know that we are made in God's image, so Jesus has every color, but I finally realized where I was and what had happened and that these were actually the men that God used to save my life. Now about this time, I also sensed that my chest was bare. (Laughter) And realizing exactly where I am and that a lot of people had gathered (Laughter), I asked, "Am I naked?" (Laughter) "Am I naked?" And Greg bends down. He says, "Pam, if that's the worst we have to worry about, it's been a good day." (Laughter) Men don't understand. (Laughter)

And I still didn't have confirmation, so I said, "Am I naked?" Well they hurried and found something to cover me up, because the last thing they want is for a cardiac patient to get upset. (Laughter) And then, the ride to the hospital in the ambulance is what followed. And the doctors were and they are amazed to this day that I suffered what I did, because my weight is not a concern, thank you very much. (Laughter) I don't smoke. There's no immediate history of heart disease in my family. They found no cholesterol or electrical problems with my heart. I was in the hospital for eight days. They have no idea what specifically triggered this to happen.

Woman in audience: Tennis (Laughter)

Pamela: Tennis. We'll talk later (Laughter) So as a precautionary measure, they fitted me with an AICD, that's an automatic cardiovascular implantable device and what it is, is the combination defibrillator and pacemaker, so that, if my heart should beat erratically again, the defibrillator will go off. If it should beat too slow, the pacemaker will set in. And a friend of mine who is a famous person--I won't name him--but he cracked me up. One day he said, "You know if you ever see Pam raise her arms and do this, it's probably because the defibrillator has gone off." (Laughter) Praise the Lord! (Laughter)

Program Note:

John: We're featuring Pam Christian on today's "Focus on the Family" and in a few moments, you'll hear how this experience, when she was just 47-years-old, deeply impacted her faith. By the way, you can get a CD of audio download of this program when you get in touch. Our number, 800-A-FAMILY; 800-232-6459. Or you'll find those and our mobile app at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio. Let's return now to Pam Christian on today's "Focus on the Family."

End of Program Note

Pamela: Well, when I was in the hospital and reflecting on everything when it was still fresh, I flashed on a thought. A thought just kind of coursed through my mind that said, "I have no regrets." And as soon as that thought registered, I thought, "Pam, how arrogant of you. How in the world could you think something like that?" And almost as soon as I had that thought, the Holy Spirit comforted me, allowing me to understand that I have no regrets, not because of how I live my life, but because of how Christ lived His and my faith has been in Christ.

Audience: (Amen)

Pamela: What about you? Not one of us know[s] the moment or the day our life will be taken from us. And it could be taken as suddenly, as walking across a sidewalk. And this truth, that our life could be taken from us that fast, need not be something that we fear, because faith in Christ is what gives us assurance that we will enter covenant communion with God in heaven forever.

My faith in Christ that was developed through all the trials and the sufferings that was developed before my cardiac arrest, allowed me to look forward to life hereafter, believing that it would be better. But for having experienced what I did with the cardiac arrest, I now know and can testify that life definitely will be better after this, far better than we could possibly hope or dream, much more incredibly peaceful and loving than we can imagine. I am now experientially convinced in the truth of the Apostle Paul's statement that, "To live is Christ and to die is gain".

Now when I got out of the hospital, I had to find out who these men were that saved my life. And when I visited them for the first time, there was a bond that we shared. Yeah, we kind of stood around, kind of goofy, just starring at each other. (Laughter) And Jeff, he said, "You know, Pam, I am really sorry, but I'm the one who had to cut your top off and you really didn't like that." And I said, "No, I didn't" and then stepping in being very "captainly," Captain Glen Seakins says," Pam, I just want to reassure you, we're professionals and under the circumstances, it really wasn't all that memorable." (Laughter)

I turned to my lady friend who drove me there and I said, "Swell! Now they tell me I'm not all that memorable." (Laughter) When it came time to leave, Captain Seakins looked at me and he said, "Pam, your coming to see us has just made our day." I mean they don't have that many people that are able to come back and say thank-you. (Laughter) But I looked at him. I said, "Glen, don't you understand that your coming to see me made the rest of my life?"

God used these wonderful men and the prayers of my sisters, to allow this wife and mother of two, to live longer on this earth. Now naturally, naturally, I take cookies or something else, anything I can think of, once a month over to the fire station. And you know, it only makes sense that I would be devoted to these people. I mean, God used them to save my life. God used them to save my physical life here on this earth. And when you think of just that, then doesn't it make even more sense that we would be devoted to the One who has saved our eternal life?

Christ died for us; the very least we can do is live for Him. Now many people, including the attending physician, Dr. Campbell, have said, "You know, Pam, I think God was trying to tell you to slow down." But considering the fact that the doctors found no reason that I suffered what I did, that I have no cholesterol problems, I have no electrical problems; there's no reason that they've given me, well, actually they did prescribe medications, but it was strictly precautionary; so I am not restricted. I take no medications whatsoever.

I don't believe that God was telling me to slow down at all. No, I don't believe I'm to slow down, because I know now better than most just how preciously and precariously vulnerable our lives are. No, I've come to understand yet another statement that the apostle Paul made and that is, "Woe to me if I don't preach the Gospel." God did not want me to slow down; God wanted me to become more intense for your sakes.

Please understand me on this. You can know that you will spend eternity with God, with conviction. And it's as simple as you being willing to believe in and receive Jesus Christ, the Son of God, whose life was given up as a substitute sacrifice to satisfy the debt of your sin and mine. You see, it was by an act of the will that sin entered all of humanity. And so, it requires an act of the will that the individual can be released and forgiven of sin--redeemed.

Closing:

John: An invitation from our guest on "Focus on the Family" today, Pamela Christian for you to look to and to receive Jesus Christ as your Savior, so you can have the kind of hope of heaven that she's expressed, whether you die today or 50 years from now."

Jim: John, isn't it amazing how a brush with death can sharpen your focus about what's important in life? What a wake-up call. By the way, Pam wanted our listeners to know that she continues to be busy doing the Lord's work with no health issues.

And as we said at the top of the program, John, February is National Heart Awareness Month and this is a great opportunity for us to remind you and ourselves of a few facts about heart attacks and sudden cardiac arrests. Most heart attacks start slowly with mild pain or discomfort. And often people mistake the symptoms for indigestion and just wait for the pain to go away and that can be a fatal mistake.

In fact, the American Heart Association says that chest pain is the most common sign of a heart attack, but with women, they are more likely to experience other symptoms such as shortness of breath, nausea or vomiting and maybe even back or jaw pain. So, if you experience these kinds of symptoms, don't try to ride it out at home. I could hear Jean doin' that, 'cause she is, you know, just so good with pain, that she just keeps goin'. But they say, get to an emergency room right away. And as you heard today, Pam's brush with death was a cardiac arrest, where the heart actually stops beating. As Pam pointed out, many people have that normal sensations before their heart will actual stop. So, if you have symptoms like chest pain, shortness of breath, lightheadedness or unexplained nausea or vomiting, call 911 and get to an emergency room right away.

By the way, it was the 911 call that literally saved Pam's life. If the paramedics had not been there to shock her back to life, she probably wouldn't have survived and we're so grateful she did so that her experience can serve as a warning for the rest of us.

If you'd like get a copy of this message from Pam Christian for yourself or maybe even for a friend, please get in touch with us. We'd be happy to send it to you for a donation of any amount, as you support the work here at Focus on the Family. Give us a call today. We really want to get this powerful presentation into your hands.

John: You can reach us by calling 800-232-6459 or online at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio. And as Pam wrapped up her message today, she explained how you can know that you'll spend eternity with God through the salvation offered in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And if you'd like to learn more about that, we have a free booklet called "Coming Home: An Invitation to Join God's Family." We'll be posting that at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio.

Our program was provided by Focus on the Family and on behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for listening. I'm John Fuller, inviting you back next time, when Greg and Erin Smalley join us and provide insights on how to improve your marriage.

Excerpt:

Dr. Greg Smalley: What do I really love? What do I like? What do I appreciate about my marriage relationship? [There's a] great verse that says, "Where your treasure is," so what you value, "there will your heart be also." So, a great way to strengthen your relationship is to begin to think about, you know, what do I love about our relationship?

End of Excerpt

John: As we once again, share trusted advice and encouragement to help your family thrive.

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Guest

Pamela Christian

View Bio

Pamela Christian's passion is encouraging people in matters of faith and helping them to discover and live in biblical truth. Her ministry experience began more than 20 years ago as a Bible teacher, which eventually led to her receiving invitations to speak nationally, earning a certificate in apologetics from Biola University and working as a radio talk-show host. Pam has been a contributing writer to various magazines and has authored two books, Renew Your Hope and Examine Your Faith. She and her husband have two grown children and reside in Orange County, Calif. Learn more about Pam by visiting her website, www.pamelachristianministries.com.