Health care exec's heart stops at the airport

Kathy Wilson-Gold drove her suitcase to the airport to fly to New Jersey for a business trip. She dropped her twins Michael and Megan off at school in October on a bright, sunny day.

Her first flight, from Oklahoma City to Dallas, was smooth. Her next flight to Philadelphia was also smooth. Kathy received a message from a customer shortly after landing. The meeting on the following day ended earlier than planned.

Kathy decided to visit the airline club in order to book an earlier flight back home.

How do the flights look? She asked Kenwyn Olin, a staff member.

Kathy fell to the ground.

Kathy hit the ground hard. Olin called 911 and then shouted for help. Three people immediately responded from outside the club: a veteran Firefighter, retired Nurse and German Doctor.

Kathy was completely numb. The three jumped to action.

Another traveler discovered Kathy's mobile. He called the last person Kathy had called, her husband Mike Gold. The traveler handed the phone over to Olin who was familiar with both Kathy and Mike due to the frequency of their business trips through Philadelphia Airport.

Mike strapped the children into their car seats when he picked up his kids from school in Oklahoma.

Olin said, "There's something wrong with Kathy." "Mike, it's bad."

The doctor called Kathy and asked her if she took any medication or drugs. He wanted to know if there was anything that could explain why a 47-year old woman in good health would collapse. Mike replied, "No."

Mike then heard a scream. Someone shouted "I can't feel a pulse." The man dropped his phone.

Someone brought an AED. After three shocks Kathy's heartbeat returned.

EMS personnel took her to a nearby ER. Kathy was put on a ventilator. She was tested to determine if her arteries were blocked. They weren't.

Olin booked flights to Philadelphia for Mike. He left without knowing if Kathy was still alive. He knew nothing else before boarding the plane except that his wife was on a ventilator and had not had a pulse for 10 minutes.

The pilot announced his arrival in Dallas, where the plane was to begin its journey towards Philadelphia.

He said, "We are experiencing a medical crisis." Please let Mike Gold go first.

Mike was convinced that he had lost her.

The word was spreading about Kathy. Airline staff wanted to assist Mike in making his connection. Mike breathed a sigh relief.

Kathy was on a ventilator and in a coma when he got to the hospital. Her boss and an executive were holding a Bible, and praying for her. Mike stayed awake all night talking to her and praying. Mike, who is a health-care executive, thought that the chances of her full recovery were not good. His faith gave him an unusual calmness throughout the night.

Mike was told by doctors that if her heart had stopped for more than 10 minutes she would most likely suffer brain damage. But an electroencephalogram, or EEG, the next morning looked OK.

The doctor said that she has perfect brain function.

Kathy woke. She and Mike took an ambulance to the heart hospital so that she could receive specialized treatment. Mike was relieved when he heard Kathy ask "How are the Twins?" Are they OK?

The doctors said that there was no reason for her sudden cardiac death. To prevent a repeat of the event, she was implanted with a cardioverter-defibrillator. The device can detect abnormal heart rhythms, and correct them. Kathy and Mike flew home four days after their ordeal began.

Kathy replied, "I have children to raise." "It wasn't my day to die," Kathy said.

As she watched the bag handlers from the window of the plane, "my whole world stopped and came crashing to a halt." She was reminded of how precious even the simplest things in life are.

Recovery was difficult. Kathy was tired and her body hurt. She began doing housework and walking slowly. She returned to a healthy diet, and gradually increased her cardio and weight training on the treadmill.

She said, "There is a physical recovery and a mental recovery." It takes time."

The airport has his number. Mike and Kathy called him to thank them. Kathy returned to her job five months later.

After she had exercised, three years later her ICD went off. The shock was not caused by an abnormal heart rhythm, but two faulty leads in the device. They were replaced.

Kathy has now been using her device for 17 years. This is a normal number, given that they have a lifespan of six to seven years. Last year, she underwent surgery to repair a minor leakage of her mitral valve. Doctors believe it is unrelated to the cardiac arrest.

Kathy spent three days in the hospital. She walked through the hospital halls and climbed several stairs the day following the valve surgery to build up her strength. She is comforted by the knowledge that her defibrillator notifies her electrophysiologist in case it detects an issue. As a precaution, she sees her cardiologist two times a year.

She is now a senior nutritionist with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration on Aging. She helps create policies and programs to improve the lives of elderly Americans. She is grateful for her life and for the time she spends with her family.

She cheered her son Michael on as he played football in college and watched Megan, who is a Tulsa-based meteorologist, win Miss Oklahoma. Kathy declared, "Today I am great."

She travels less for work now, but when she is in Philadelphia she will stop at the airline club. She said, "I'm only alive because I was at the airport on that day." She was working alone from home at the time. If I was home, I could have been a statistic.

She hopes that her experience will convince others to "live every day as if it were your last, the last time you'll see your kids, your husband, and your loved ones." Even if you are healthy, this could be your last day.

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