Laura Geraghty is a miracle patient, according to her doctors. After suffering a major heart attack on April 1 that left her without a regular heart for nearly an hour, Geraghty surprised doctors by making a nearly full recovery.
She is now using her second chance at life to spread the word about the importance educating people about cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and automated external defibrillators (AEDs), tools that doctors credit for her remarkable progress.
"I was extremely fortunate. God was looking out for me," she says. "It’s really important to make people aware of the symptoms of a heart attack, especially among women, and make sure more people know how to do CPR or help if someone’s having a heart attack."
When Geraghty, 46, left her home on April 1, she was feeling fine and seemingly in good health. By the time she picked up the first child on her bus route to Newton South High School, she was experiencing what she thought was indigestion. That feeling quickly turned to pain shooting up her arm.
"I knew I was having a heart attack," says Geraghty.
Before she passed out, she sent one of the teacher's aides running to get the school nurse and called her supervisor to let him know she could not finish her route that day. That's the last she remembers.
Geraghty collapsed and went into cardiac arrest. She had no pulse and oxygen was not circulating through her body. When help arrived from Newton South High School, they immediately started CPR and tried to use the school’s AED to shock her back to life. From there, she was rushed to Newton-Wellesley Hospital.
Geraghty was essentially dead for 57 minutes without a pulse. The emergency room doctor decided to give it one last try after 20 attempts to restore her heart function with a defibrillator.
"On my 21st shock I gave the doctor a shock," she says.
The last shock was the one that worked, and the Newton-Wellesley Emergency Department team stabilized a critically ill Geraghty enough to send her to the Mass General Hospital Heart Center for an emergency catheterization procedure. Within minutes of arriving at Mass General, Dr. Kenneth Rosenfield, director of cardiac and vascular invasive services for the Heart and Vascular Centers, opened Geraghty’s blocked artery by placing a stent in her heart.
"Laura had a 100 percent blockage of her left anterior descending artery," says Rosenfield. "We were able to restore blood flow, but she was still in very serious condition. We were anxious to see how much of her brain function she had retained when she regained consciousness."
Geraghty surprised everyone when she walked out of Mass General nine days later with no noticeable neurological affects. After months of recovery and completing a cardiac rehabilitation program, Geraghty has regained most of her heart function.
Dr. Rosenfield attributes much of Geraghty’s recovery to the immediate and effective CPR she received.
"The heart is a resilient organ. In fact, it's the brain that is much more susceptible to damage in these situations. The brain begins to lose function within four minutes when oxygen is cut off," he says. "The fact that Laura has no neurological impairments after her heart attack is testament to the early and effective CPR she received."
According to the American Heart Association, almost 80 percent of out-of-hospital cardiac arrests occur at home and are witnessed by a family member. However, very few of those witnesses know how to perform CPR.
Dr. Rosenfield, along with Geraghty and several of his other patients, is working with the American Heart Association to lobby for the passage of a legislative bill mandating CPR instruction in Massachusetts high schools.
"If students were required to get certified in CPR for graduation, in a few years we would have a veritable army of people who could help in these situations, they would very likely save lives of people experiencing heart attacks or sudden cardiac death," says Rosenfield.
Geraghty is getting behind the cause. She told her story at a recent meeting of the Sudden Cardiac Arrest Association in Chicago and even plans to become a certified CPR instructor herself.
"If you had asked me about heart attacks or sudden cardiac death on March 31, I would have said 'that doesn’t matter to me. I’m too young to worry about that'," says Geraghty. "Now, I want to make sure others can be as fortunate as I was by teaching people about CPR and getting AEDs in more public places."