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Thanks to coworkers’ quick response, Pam Coleman has a second chance at life

March 09, 2017

On August 2, 2016 Pam Coleman, an administrator in Baystate Health's Information Technology Department, suffered a life-threatening cardiac arrest while sitting at her desk. While she was unconscious, her nurse colleagues, working with the IT department to design medical information software, immediately began lifesaving CPR and used an automatic external defibrillator, or AED, while waiting for emergency personnel to arrive.

Right Place, Right Time

While in the Baystate Medical Center Emergency Department, Coleman suffered another cardiac arrest and thankfully was once again surrounded by medical professionals. A team of clinicians used the defibrillator to restore the normal rhythm of her heart for a second time and essentially save her life.

“I was working on another critical patient when our nursing staff started yelling 'She's in arrest, she's in arrest,' and it was all hands on deck. We went into the room and defibrillated her again, so she really had two cardiac arrests. One at work and one right in the ED,” said Dr. Neils Rathlev, chair of the Emergency Department.

What Coleman experienced was called primary ventricular fibrillation, an unpredictable and potentially fatal arrhythmia occurring during the critical phase of a myocardial infarction which leads to immediate collapse and, if left untreated, sudden cardiac death within minutes.

Thankfully for Coleman she survived and only had to be defibrillated once in the Emergency Department. She was then given medication to keep her in normal heart rhythm and prevent her from falling back into fibrillation.

A Special Reunion

On February 22nd Coleman and her brother Paul reunited with the colleagues, doctors and nurses who jumped in and saved her life and was given the opportunity to personally thank them for their efforts.

“I'm glad you guys were there. The last thing I remember was coming out of a meeting and that is it… until I woke up in the hospital in a cardiac unit,” said Coleman. “I was feeling normal; it just came out of the blue.”

“The scary part as family members is that if it had happened at home two hours earlier it could have been a very different story. That's why it's so amazing that it did happen at Baystate. Even if it was another company she could have worked for, I can't imagine that they would have responded the same way,” said Paul Coleman, brother.

After reuniting with the team, she also received a tour of the emergency room and was eager to learn more about the department and the individuals who saved her life. One of those individuals was Shelly Higgins, RN, Emergency Department.

“When she came out, she was just as pleasant as she was before the arrest. I’ve been doing this for 27 years and this is only the second time that I've met someone after such an intense situation,” said Higgins. “She technically died twice, and here she is talking afterwards. We don't get to see things come full circle like that; often times they leave the department to go somewhere else without us knowing what happened in the long run.”

Be Prepared

Stories like Coleman’s remind us of the importance of knowing CPR and how to operate an AED.

“Being familiar with an AED is good for anyone, but you don't need specialized training,” said Lynn Garreffi, Nurse Manager, Emergency Department. “If you were in a similar situation and there was an AED there and you called 911 and received instructions over the phone, you would do just fine using one. These days when I go to a public function, I am looking for an AED because I am a caregiver and I want to know where that critical piece of equipment is; so it's just raising awareness.”

A Happy Ending

Today Coleman is back to work and very aware of a "healthy heart" lifestyle. She is exercising and eating right and has a defibrillator implanted in her chest in case the problem happens again.

“I am almost back to regular work,” said Coleman. “I am still taking some time to finish up my cardio rehab, so I exercise three times a week. I also try to do a little more when I am at the house, so basically back to normal, I hope!”

Baystate Health is extremely thankful for Pam's outcome and for all of our amazing employees who sprang into action that day and saved her life.