“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.