Helen Winberg was leaving the local mall after finishing her morning routine of walking on April 4, 2013, when she collapsed due to sudden cardiac arrest.
Mall security personnel witnessed the incident on security cameras. They rushed to begin CPR and then used a public-access automated external defibrillator, or AED, to deliver a shock before emergency medical responders could arrive.
Winberg, then 79, was transported to the hospital, where doctors placed three stents due to blockages and removed fluid from around her heart. She was placed into a medically-induced coma to rest for a few days and was released from the hospital nearly three weeks later.
According to the 2015 American Heart Association Guidelines for CPR & ECC, about 90 percent of the more than 350,000 people in the U.S. who experience out-of-hospital cardiac arrests die. But CPR, especially when performed immediately, can double or triple a cardiac arrest victim’s chance of survival.
A recent survey by the American Heart Association showed most U.S. employees are not prepared to handle health emergencies in the workplace because they lack training in CPR and First Aid. Al Kennedy, division chief for Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue, said the incident reflects the power of the chain-of-survival, access to an AED and trained mall personnel.
“Every step within the chain-of-survival was executed perfectly for this patient – resulting in an excellent outcome,” Kennedy said.
Winberg had been treated for high cholesterol prior to her cardiac arrest, but said she was still in disbelief at what had happened.
“I never thought of myself as having heart problems, because I’d never felt any symptoms,” she said.
Winberg, who lives in Tigard, Oregon, had been a regular mall walker for 15 years, walking for at least 30 minutes each weekday, sometimes an hour if she ran into friends. She recently moved into an independent senior living facility, where she said her diet has gotten healthier, though she had to reduce her walking due to pain from arthritis.
“I still try to walk as much as my body will let me,” she said.
Winberg had undergone CPR training herself as the leader of a Camp Fire troop years ago – back when broad training of lay responders was relatively new – but said the experience gave her a new appreciation for the lifesaving skill.
“I already knew CPR was important, but when you survive because someone did CPR, it takes it to a new level,” she said.
Winberg, now 83, said meeting her rescuers at an annual breakfast hosted by Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue was “thrilling.”
“I was just filled with thankfulness that they were there and had the training they did,” she said.
Winberg, a breast cancer survivor, said she draws strength from her faith as she attempts to find meaning in her survival.
“To have a cardiac arrest happen someplace where you have immediate help, it was just amazing,” she said. “I know there’s a reason I’m here and I have an obligation to help people learn to appreciate their life.”