Deb Koziol

Sudden Cardiac Death Survivor

by Debra Koziol

Editor's Note: Deb has a special connection to a Hasbro Children's Hospital cardiac patient, Alyssa Brouillard.
Read Alyssa's story.

Let me start by telling you that for most of my life, I was a person who was never overweight, I don't smoke, I've always exercised at least a few times a week, I ate healthy and my blood pressure and cholesterol have always been good. Yet at the age of 47, I experienced what is known as sudden cardiac death. I was at home, relaxing with my family. Without any pain or warning, my heart stopped. My husband called 9-1-1 and started CPR. Cranston rescue arrived and put me on an auto-pulse, which is a band that goes around the body to deliver chest compressions. I was not breathing on my own for 30-40 minutes. The rescue team used the defibrillators on me six times and was able to get my heart started just prior to arriving at Rhode Island Hospital. It is estimated that 95 percent of sudden cardiac victims die before reaching the hospital.

Debra KoziolA team was waiting for me at Rhode Island Hospital and I was treated in the emergency department and quickly taken to the cardiac catheterization lab. I was in a coma for a few days and my doctors were not sure if I was going to survive. The other major issue was that I was not breathing for so long, my mental state was a definite concern as well but thanks to the oxygen that was supplied to me by my husband and the rescue team, my brain was saved. I woke up and went on to have successful open-heart surgery with Dr. Singh to repair a leaking mitral valve. After a month in the hospital, I was sent home with a life vest, which is a wearable automatic defibrillator. This was necessary until I was able to have a defibrillator implanted. I immediately started cardiac rehab at The Miriam Hospital and successfully completed the program.

I will be forever grateful to the team of people who cared for me and my family at Rhode Island Hospital. When I think back to what was the most traumatic event of my life, my initial thoughts are that I was never alone. My doctors and nurses consistently gave us information and education on what was happening to me and what I would be going through. They have compassion and empathy and a genuine love for what they do.

One nurse in particular, Brianna Jennings, was with my husband and daughter those first critical nights. She calmed them by taking away some of their fears of seeing me on a ventilator. After a few hours, she was able to finally get my daughter to enter my room and be by my side. We will always be grateful for this. This initial experience from the emergency department to this point set the bar pretty high for my family, and the quality of care I received through discharge was phenomenal.

My followup at this point is with my cardiologist, Dr. Gilson and Dr. Lorvidhaya, who checks my defibrillator. I continue to exercise four to five days a week and have no limitations. We have the very best in health care available to us. We have amazing doctors, nurses and health care providers. We have incredible technology. I was fortunate enough to have a husband who knows CPR. 

"Deb, if you didn't exercise and if you had unhealthy risk factors, we wouldn't be having this conversation."

So, when I talk to people about the importance of a healthy lifestyle, a couple have asked 'If you exercised and ate right and this happened to you, why bother?  If it's going to happen, it's going to happen.' That question crossed my mind as well during one of my conversations with my cardiac surgeon, Dr. Singh. He said "Deb, if you didn't exercise and if you had unhealthy risk factors, we wouldn't be having this conversation. Your heart would never have survived the initial trauma. Your body had to be as strong as it possibly could to be able to fight."  

I was fortunate, I know, to have this amazing team of people who came together one night and saved my life. I am so thankful that my body was strong enough to fight for it.

I became involved in some events with the American Heart Association (AHA). In January, AHA partnered with Styleweek Providence for a Go Red Dress Challenge. Each heart survivor was partnered with a local designer for the challenge. Imagine, at 51, I was walking the runway in an amazing designer gown by Samuel Vartan. The most recent show was in August with young heart survivors between the ages of 9 and 13. I was asked to mentor a couple of the girls to guide them through the process and help to calm nerves the day of the show. These little heart heroes did an amazing job. These young ladies have had so many health challenges, yet they are all full of energy and their excitement was just bursting through them. I believe that by coming so close to death, I have gained a real love and excitement for life that comes so naturally in these children. 

One child in particular, Alyssa Brouillard, was one of my mentees and has a significant bond to me. Alyssa's dad, Dave, was a part of the team of responders who arrived at my house the night my heart stopped. They received an award from the city for their efforts in saving my life and that is where I met Dave's little heart hero, Alyssa. She loves fashion, shopping and has a personality that lights up a room. She was perfect as a model in the Styleweek fashion show.

It is truly a miracle that I am here today. I have always said these people were my angels on earth. Each one was able to perform a miracle that allowed me the benefit of the next person or team or technology. Together, they mended my broken heart as well as the hearts of my family and friends.