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Living with a grateful heart

Roberts saved by an AED


“She was gone.”

That’s how Dee Dee Gilmore described Kelsey Roberts when she and others rushed to her aid in the parking lot of Katy Trail Community Health nearly six years ago. Roberts had arrived for an appointment to confirm a pregnancy and suddenly collapsed, landing in the bushes where another patient found her and notified clinic staff. She was just 20 years old. 

A care coordinator nurse reached Roberts first and Gilmore, a nurse practitioner, and another nurse followed and moved her from the bushes to a firm surface. Roberts had no pulse and was not breathing. Gilmore and the other nurse immediately began CPR, and when that didn’t work, they reached for the clinic’s automated external defibrillator (AED). 

An AED is a small, lightweight device that allows individuals and first responders to treat sudden cardiac arrest. The machine automatically analyzes the heart rhythm and when appropriate, it delivers an electrical shock to the heart to restore its normal rhythm.

Sudden cardiac arrest, like Roberts experienced, can be fatal in about eight minutes, and brain damage can happen after just five minutes. Gilmore said it felt their rescue efforts were “taking forever” but estimated it was about four minutes from when they got to Roberts and then resuscitated her. 

“We shocked her twice before her heart started beating again,” she said. “She was dead and would have not have survived without the AED.”

Gilmore had practiced with an AED but had never used one in a real situation, and while she’s trained to save lives, she appreciated how easy it was to use.

“The machine let us know exactly what needed to happen,” she said. “There wasn’t a ton of extra thinking required to follow the voice prompts.” 

While Roberts had a heartbeat, she was not stable. An ambulance arrived and took her to a helipad, where she was life-flighted to a hospital in Columbia. After eight days in the hospital, she was ultimately diagnosed by physicians at Mayo Clinic with prolonged QT interval syndrome, which is an abnormal feature of the heart's electrical system that can lead to an irregular heartbeat and may result in fainting or sudden cardiac death.

“I’d been passing out and experiencing seizures since I was a senior in high school,” Roberts said. “QT syndrome is pretty rare, and I went undiagnosed for several years, but it’s hereditary. My daughter has it too.” 

Roberts’ daughter, appropriately named Heartlee, is a beautiful 5-year-old that Roberts said “saved her life.” 

“If it wasn’t for her, I might have been driving or somewhere else where help wasn’t so available,” she said. “It was a miracle or a God thing that I was in the right place at the right time when I collapsed.”

Because of her experience, Roberts said she advocates all the time for people to know how to perform CPR.

“It’s super important to me, and I’m certified myself,” she said. “It’s the same with AEDs; when something happens, people can’t always wait for first responders to get there, so having these skills and tools is crucial because minutes matter.” 

More than 350,000 people experience out-of-hospital cardiac arrests in the United States each year, according to the American Heart Association. Survival from cardiac arrest doubles when bystanders step in to use a publicly available automated external defibrillator rather than wait until emergency responders arrive.

Gilmore, who is now a nurse practitioner at Bothwell Regional Health Center’s Cancer Center, was moved by the experience and said it’s imperative to have AEDs available in public places, not just doctor’s offices. 

“To be a part of saving her life and her baby’s life is a really big deal. That kind of situation just didn’t happen to us at the clinic,” she said. “Kelsey’s age also proves that cardiac arrest can happen to anyone and anywhere at any time. When I’m at games at rural schools, I think about how it could take an ambulance a good 30 minutes to arrive. AEDs give people that opportunity to save a life.”


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