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Deb Koziol, Rhode Island


A heart defect she’d had since birth caused Debra Koziol to go into sudden cardiac arrest.  Her husband’s CPR training—and a lifetime of keeping her heart healthy—saved her.

Debra had spent her life trying to stay healthy. She exercised often and watched her diet.

In her 20s she’d been diagnosed with mitral valve prolapse—a condition causing her heart to occasionally skip a beat. Her doctors said her MVP wasn’t cause for concern.

In August 2006, Debra was on the couch reading a book to her grandson when her husband saw her suddenly tip over. Her eyes were open and fixed, so he immediate called 9-1-1 and began CPR.

The paramedics arrived, put Debra on a machine that provided compressions, and intubated her because she wasn’t breathing on her own.  For more than 30 minutes she didn’t breathe on her own, which put her at risk for brain damage.

Debra, who was 47, had experienced a sudden cardiac arrest. That’s a condition in which the heart suddenly and unexpectedly stops beating stopping blood flow to the brain and other vital organs. To start her heart beating again, she was shocked six times with an automated external defibrillator on the way to the hospital.

At the hospital, doctors put her into an induced coma to allow her heart to rest; her survival the first night was uncertain.

After three days, Debra began to come out of her coma. It was two weeks before she was strong enough to have open-heart surgery to repair the leaking mitral valve that had strained her heart. Due to complications, it was two months before she could have surgery to implant a cardioverter defibrillator, a device to shock her heart should it ever stop again.

After her recovery, Debra participated in cardiac rehab and learned more about her condition and how to keep her heart healthy.

She’d had always tried to lead a healthy lifestyle, but today she’s more consistent about exercise. She’s made important changes to her diet, too, minimizing saturated fats and carbs.

Today, Debra has no limitations due to her condition, but she’s under the close care of a cardiologist. All four of her heart valves leak, and one section of her heart is slightly enlarged.

Debra’s doctor says that her husband’s quick action and her good health at the time were critical to her survival.

“My doctor told me that I may not have even survived the CPR if my heart hadn’t been as strong as it was,” she said.

Debra is now 54 and a strong advocate for CPR training. She shares her story through the American Heart Association and urges others to get training.

Debra’s condition never produced symptoms before her sudden cardiac arrest. That’s why she emphasizes the importance of keeping your heart healthy: it will be better able to withstand an emergency.

“It could be something other than heart disease, but your heart still has to be strong to withstand whatever you’re fighting,” Debra said. “I tell women, ‘Hopefully you’ll never be the one in the ambulance, but if you are, how strong do you want your heart to be?’”


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