Little Elm resident Angela Perkins had always been a healthy person. She exercised, ate healthy and maintained an overall wholesome lifestyle. Even her family tree was pristine, with no history of health problems.
But despite her extensive measures to stay healthy, they were no match for life’s plans. At age 37, Perkins had sudden cardiac arrest during a work meeting in her Dallas office.
“I remember feeling dizzy,” Perkins said. “Everyone thought I fainted, so they called 9-1-1. The reason I felt dizzy was because there was no blood or oxygen going to my heart.”
Luckily for her, Dallas Fire and Rescue arrived within two minutes of the call. Perkins was already blue from lack of oxygen and showed no signs of life. After 20 minutes of CPR and four shocks with an Automated External Defibrillator (AED), a sparkle came back into Perkins’ eyes.
Paramedics rushed Perkins to Medical City Hospital in Dallas where she was treated for the backlash effects of cardiac arrest such as mild brain trauma and hypothermia. Perkins spent 10 days in the Intensive Care Unit recovering from her cardiac arrest.
“I don’t remember anything for about two weeks,” Perkins said. “It’s almost like it’s just a story that someone told me.”
Two years later, doctors are still trying to figure out why Perkins had cardiac arrest. She had been to the doctor about a month before the episode and per usual, checked out healthy. According to the National Center for Early Defibrillation, the average age of people who experience cardiac arrest is 65.
Although the cause is still unknown, Perkins constantly expresses her gratitude for being alive. The quick response of her coworkers and paramedics saved her life, making her among the Sudden Cardiac Arrest Foundation’s estimated 38 percent of people who survive cardiac arrest when given CPR and an AED before paramedics arrive.
“I try not to worry as much about small things now and be thankful for each day,” Perkins said. “To educate people is one thing I’ve been passionate about because you never know when or where you’re going to be when something like this happens.”
Perkins advises everyone to go to the doctor regularly to stay as healthy as possible. Even though it was not preventative enough for her, she said doctor visits will still help. The American Heart Association recommends healthy eating, stress management, regular exercise and avoiding smoking for optimum heart health.
Educating people about cardiac arrest has been something of a top priority for Perkins, even before her cardiac episode. She has been instrumental in helping the company she works for, Ryan, Inc., stay active in its support for the American Heart Association (AHA) through various events and fundraisers.
Last Thursday, Perkins shared her story at the AHA Go Red for Women luncheon at the Omni Hotel in Dallas. The mission of the luncheon is to promote heart health and help fund more research for the disease. Because more women die from heart disease than men each year, the focus was on heart disease in women.
"The success of the Dallas Go Red For Women Luncheon was not only in the event itself but also in the education and awareness it generated," said Melissa Cameron, executive director of the American Heart Association in Dallas. "When the attendees hear survivor stories, like the one that Angela can share, it's impactful, and it puts a face to the very real issues of heart disease and stroke.
“In addition to inspiring survivor stories attendees had the opportunity to bid on silent auction items, see healthy cooking demonstrations and even have their own health checked by Texas Health Resources. This event is about so much more than lunch. It's the rallying point for all of us as we fight this deadly disease that is currently impacting one in three of us.”
Perkins said her life has changed significantly since her cardiac arrest. She now has an Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator (ICD) in her chest to detect an abnormal heart rate. If her heart rate changes, the ICD sends a small shock to her heart to get it back to normal.
Whenever she sees firefighters, Perkins is sure to give them a friendly smile and wave.
“They probably think I’m crazy,” Perkins said. “But I like to let them [firefighters] know that what they do everyday makes a difference.”
Read more about preventative measures and the American Heart Association at heart.org.