On New Year’s Eve, Ashly Bohlman had a low-key dinner with her future in-laws and her 2-year-old daughter, Lillian.
She knows they ate crab legs, but only because they’d discussed it beforehand. Bohlman doesn’t remember what they talked about during the meal, or warming up her car when she was getting ready to leave the couple’s Andover home, or phoning her fiancé once she got on the road.
The 23-year-old’s mind “went into a fog,” or so she’s been told, just before she went into sudden cardiac arrest. At the time, she was driving on Hanson Boulevard in Andover, heading home to Champlin with Lillian in the back seat. Her car veered off the side of the road and into a snowbank.
She survived to tell the story, thanks in large part to the quick thinking of passersby. She hopes her experience will motivate people to learn CPR. “CPR really can save people’s lives,” she said. She is living proof.
One rescue leads to another
As Bohlman’s car plunged into the snowbank, it made a crashing sound. That got the attention of brothers Joey and Rohan Murdock. They were down the street at a gas station with their mom, who had called them for help when her car broke down, Joey Murdock said.
After waiting about 30 seconds to see if anyone would get out of Bohland’s car, they drove over to check it out.
Murdock recognized the silver-colored Saturn. He’d never met Bohlman, but he had noticed her car in his neighbors’ driveway when he was on his way out the door. Bohlman had started the car, probably to warm it up, he said.
It was a casual observation that he never would have guessed would prove to be useful. “When I saw the car [in the snowbank], it clicked. I realized it must be hers,” he said.
The brothers, both of whom had had emergency medical training in the military, found Bohlman unconscious in the front seat. They banged on the window, but she didn’t even flinch. That’s when they knew they had to act fast.
They kicked out the rear window and grabbed Lillian. They bundled her up, and tucked her safely into Rohan’s truck. In the midst of everything, Rohan called 911.
Joey Murdock then held Bohlman’s head upright for a time. “I wasn’t sure if she had a neck injury,” he said.
As he did so, he squeezed her fingers to see if she’d respond.
Soon, a police officer and his wife arrived on the scene. By then, Bohlman no longer had a pulse, Murdock said.
He and the officer pulled her out of the car, laying her on a blanket on the ground. They performed CPR. The officer also tried using an automated external defibrillator (AED) on Bohlman, but to no avail, he said.
After an ambulance arrived and took Bohlman to Mercy Hospital in Coon Rapids, the Murdocks led the officer to their neighbors’ house, to bring Lillian to safety.
By then, Murdock had gotten discouraged. “I was pretty down. I thought we waited too long. I didn’t think she made it,” he said.
A couple of days later, some good news arrived.
“My neighbor came by and told me that she’s alive,” he said. “I was so excited. It was emotional. I hoped and prayed for the best but had doubts.”
Cooling the body
At Mercy, doctors put Bohlman through a process that involves cooling the body down for 24 hours, said Dr. Stephen Hustead, a cardiologist who specializes in heart rhythm management.
It’s a way to protect the organs, particularly the brain, after cardiac arrest. Usually, doctors make a decision to do that if someone doesn’t immediately wake up once the heart starts beating correctly. The biggest concern is then whether the brain will function, he said.
Hustead saw Bohlman for the first time on Jan. 2. “As arrhythmia experts, we are usually asked to evaluate the patient after it appears they are going to make a meaningful recovery,” he said.
Although it’s not unheard of, it’s unusual for someone Bohlman’s age to experience sudden cardiac arrest, he said.
After running tests, “we could not identify a reversible cause for her cardiac arrest, nor any evidence of underlying structural heart disease. Some defects can occur at the cellular level and make the heart electrically unstable,” Hustead said.
In light of that, he implanted a defibrillator, or ICD, in Bohlman’s chest. The device “will deliver an internal shock to restore the heart’s normal beating if she should ever have another episode of ventricular fibrillation,” he said.
It’s fortunate that people who knew how to perform CPR were nearby when Bohlman went into sudden cardiac arrest, he said.
The chances of surviving a cardiac arrest occurring outside of a hospital varies between 5 and 15 percent, depending on the location — “a pretty sobering statistic,” he said. That’s why many cities are aggressive about training people in CPR and placing automatic defibrillators (AED’s) in common public areas, he said.
In the absence of CPR, survival during a cardiac arrest diminishes by 10 percent every minute, “so that it is very unlikely to survive by 10 minutes,” he said.
By the time Bohlman left the hospital on Jan. 9, she was able to talk, walk on her own and feed herself. “I was the talk of the hospital. Everyone was amazed at my recovery and how quickly I recovered. Most people don’t survive what I did,” she said.
A fight to live
People told her that she fought to live through the entire process. “I wanted to get out. I wanted to talk. I tried talking with a bunch of tubing in my throat,” she said.
Now, Bohlman is staying with her mom in Coon Rapids, while she recuperates. Despite the strides she’s made, she has limitations. For example, for the time being, she can’t lift anything more than 10 pounds. That includes Lillian.
“Lillian remembers that whole New Year’s night. She’ll say, ‘mommy has owies,’ ” and ‘broken window,’ ” she said.
“She knows to only hold my right hand and to be careful when she hugs me. She knows I can’t pick her up.”
For Bohlman, who is otherwise the picture of good health, the dramatic turn of events is a powerful reminder that life is short. “You have to appreciate what you have. I sure do. I get to watch my little girl grow up, which is what’s important to me right now,” she said.
That’s not all. “It has definitely brought me a lot closer to God. I’ve had my share of doubts. But it’s a complete miracle I’m even here,” she said.
She’s especially thankful to the Murdocks. “If it wasn’t for those boys having been there, I wouldn’t be here today.”