BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - One year ago, Stephanie Douglas was living a healthy life as a wife and mother, working in administration at Kingwood Christian Child Development Center in Alabaster. On October 29, 2017, she left church and went to pick up food for her family at a local restaurant. While she was waiting for her order, she remembers feeling dizzy. That’s when her memory of the event stops.
Douglas collapsed and lost consciousness as restaurant workers and customers scrambled to help her and called 911. She was gasping for air when a woman entered the restaurant, told them she was a nurse and started CPR on Douglas, doing chest compressions until paramedics arrived. Douglas was one month away from turning 50, and it was not her time to die.
“She absolutely saved my life,” Douglas said about the nurse who arrived just in the nick of time. That nurse happened to be on duty at the hospital where Douglas spent two nights while doctors tried to figure out what happened. After undergoing multiple tests, they determined Douglas had experienced sudden cardiac arrest (SCA), a life-threatening emergency that requires immediate treatment. With SCA, the heart spontaneously stops beating, usually due to abnormalities in the heart’s electrical system. SCA is not the same thing as a heart attack. Douglas has no family history of heart disease and her blood pressure and cholesterol have always been normal.
Stephanie Douglas is a rare survivor. Of the 356,000 people who experience SCA in the United States every year, nearly 90% will die. That’s why Douglas wants to raise awareness about SCA and the importance of CPR, the only thing that will keep oxygen-rich blood flowing to the brain for someone who has sudden cardiac arrest. She also hopes businesses and schools will consider adding an AED, or automated external defibrillator, a device that delivers a shock to restore natural rhythm to the heart and can be a life saver during cardiac distress.
“AEDs are not scary, they’re very user friendly,” said Douglas. “You turn it on and it tells you exactly what to do.”
Two months after she was rushed to the hospital, Douglas underwent surgery in which doctors implanted an internal defibrillator, in case her heart stops again. Since then, she has run a 5K and after that, got busy planning one. The Run for Our Lives 5K is scheduled for Saturday, October 20 on the Buck Creek Trail in Alabaster. She’s hoping to raise awareness and money to purchase an AED, the first of many she hopes to help provide in the future.
Douglas has also gotten certified in CPR training, part of her new passion to turn her life-threatening experience into a life-saving one for others.
“I want people to learn how to do CPR, and not be afraid to do it,” Douglas said. “It saved my life. I am blessed to be alive!”