"It started like any other day, but I decided to exercise first thing that Thursday morning. At 7 a.m., my heart stopped pumping blood while I was exercising at the YMCA, and I nearly died. Before my heart went into ventricular fibrillation, I was the picture of health. Although I had a pre-existing heart condition known as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, or "Athlete's Heart," I had never been on any medication. I was always active in the gym and played football throughout my youth and then at the University of Virginia.
My enlarged heart had been diagnosed when I was 25 years old - a decade before the cardiac arrest. Doctors told me that, due to genetics, my heart had grown to become a little larger than normal, and my athletic activities hadn't helped. I was a ticking time bomb, but there was not enough research or case studies for my cardiologists to know it. Even the full run-up of tests that I received after two incidents of fainting while exercising within a 6-month window of my near fatal cardiac arrest in 2000 was not enough for my prognosis to be changed by the doctors.
You may say that I am very lucky, but it was much more than luck. It was a miracle that I survived. I was resuscitated by a Good Samaritan. A local physician was working out on the same floor and came to my rescue by performing CPR on me and using an AED, which the YMCA had just purchased with funds they had raised. Medics arrived almost simultaneously and continued the saving process while rushing me to the hospital. My heart stopped two more times in the ambulance.
The North Carolina General Assembly had just passed the Good Samaritan Act earlier in the month protecting people who performed life-saving acts. I have no memory of the event or the fact that I thought Richard Nixon was still the president when I awoke. After my week's stay at Carolinas Medical Center, where doctors implanted an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD), I returned home and eventually to my regular lifestyle. It wasn't until I returned to my advertising sales job at WSOC-TV that I realized how blessed I was, and how close to death I really came.
Originally, I thought either October 26 was a slow news day, or surviving a near fatal cardiac arrest must be very significant news. More than that was the way so many positive things fell into place. When friends at the station made a tape for me of the 6:00 p.m. Eyewitness News from that night and I saw our reporter and anchors discussing my story and providing well wishes, I welled up and realized how I almost became a statistic.
At first, I was hesitant to make my story public. When the American Heart Association called and said I could help save many lives using my story, it was an easy decision. My cardiac arrest gave me a new outlook on life and inspired me to give back and fight to prevent this from happening to others - especially my own children. I am honored to have served as a spokesman, with my family, on television commercials for the American Heart Association's Learning CPR. I have also been an Advocate for AHA, lobbying our members of Congress each year on Heart and Stroke legislative priorities. If my story raises awareness about the No. 1 killer in the world– heart disease - while encouraging people to visit their cardiologist and also learn CPR, then I feel obliged to share it. Hopefully, we can take an ounce of prevention, and make a pound of cure." - Juddson RuppBack to Survivor Stories