UK HealthCare

Quick response, CPR gives Georgetown woman a second chance

image of Abby Jones in Gill Heart Clinic
Image of Dr. Fisher listening to Abby's heart with a stethoscope
image of Jones family with Abby in hospital room
image of Ryan and Abby together
image of the Jones family dressed up.

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Feb. 14, 2023) — It was a Sunday like any other in the Jones house in Georgetown.

Breakfast was made. Errands were run. And there was cleaning to be done.

Twenty-eight-year-old Abby Jones was in the middle of cleaning the bathroom when she suddenly felt a pain her chest. She stopped for a few minutes, thinking it was perhaps a reaction to the chemicals in the bathroom cleaner. When the pain didn’t stop, she told her husband, Ryan, she was going upstairs to take a bath.

That’s the last thing she remembers.

Ryan recalls hearing Abby call for him from upstairs. He found her in the bathtub, barely conscious.

Suddenly, she convulsed, then slumped down in the tub. After pulling the plug on the bathtub drain, he ran to get his phone and called 911.

“I’m talking to 911, and she’s gasping for air, then she stops breathing,” Ryan said. Recalling a scene from the sitcom “The Office,” he started giving Abby CPR until Georgetown EMS arrived.

In the ambulance, Abby’s heart was shocked three times. Her heartbeat was restored, but it was still very faint. When she arrived at the the University of Kentucky Albert B. Chandler Hospital emergency department, doctors determined that her heart was in ventricular fibrillation, or V-Fib, the most serious type of abnormal heart rhythm. In V-Fib, disordered electrical activity causes the heart’s lower chambers, the ventricles, to quiver instead of beating normally. This prohibits the heart from pumping blood, causing collapse and cardiac arrest. Without Ryan’s quick action, Abby would not have survived.

Abby was diagnosed with sudden coronary artery dissection (SCAD), a condition in which a tear forms in a blood vessel in the heart. It’s a rare condition, affecting more women than men. Around 80-90% of SCAD patients are women, and up to 35% of all heart attacks in women under 50 are caused by SCAD. As the name suggests, it occurs spontaneously, and people who have SCAD don’t have the usual risk factors for heart disease, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes. In fact, Abby had never had any type of medical emergency before and has no family history of heart disease.

“That’s what was really bizarre,” Abby said. “I would consider myself to be fairly healthy. For that to happen was really strange.”

In fact, Abby’s only recent trips to the doctor had been related to her pregnancy – just five months earlier, she had given birth to a healthy baby boy. But this fact may have contributed to her heart issue.

“Her presentation was five months postpartum, and we know that there is an influence of hormones in SCAD given the sex predominance of the disease,” said Mary Beth Fisher, D.O, director of the Women’s Heart Program in UK HealthCare’s Gill Heart & Vascular Institute, where they see only three to five cases of SCAD a year. “We also know that pregnancy-associated SCAD is a common cause of heart attacks in pregnancy and often has a more severe presentation. So given her timeline and her course I suspect that her recent pregnancy was likely a trigger.”

Abby underwent an emergency procedure to place a stent in her artery to hold it open and restore blood flow, performed by John Gurley, M.D., and his team of emergency heart surgery specialists. She spent the next two weeks at Chandler Hospital, lost in a fog of hazy memory and semi-familiar faces.

“She didn’t know who anybody was,” said Ryan. “She recognized faces. And felt comfortable with people. After a while, the doctors said it was like loading up. She would remember things about her life. She knew we went to high school together and that we dated, but she had no idea we had kids.”

Abby’s memory loss was caused by hypoxia, a condition in which the brain doesn’t get enough oxygen. When her heart stopped, oxygenated blood wasn’t flowing to her brain and other organs. The longer the brain goes without oxygen, the more severe the brain damage. The fact that Ryan and EMS acted so quickly accounts for how quickly Abby was able to recover her memories.  After two weeks at Chandler, she was transferred to Cardinal Hill Rehabilitation Hospital where she spent a week rehabbing her heart as well as her memory.

“At first, I couldn’t even walk,” Abby said. “But physically, I’m so much better. A lot of the memory is back, but little things will trip me up every once in a while.”

Once she was back home, surrounded by love and familiar faces, Abby could fully rest and recover. For eight weeks following her discharge from Cardinal Hill, she followed up with cardiac rehabilitation at Georgetown Community Hospital, a longtime member of the Gill Heart & Vascular Institute Affiliate Network.

Comprising 21 regional and community hospitals across the state, UK HealthCare's Gill Affiliate Network enhances access to high-quality cardiovascular care to ensure patients receive the right care in the right place at the right time. Through this statewide network, patients like Abby can get routine post-surgical care and rehab at hospitals and clinics near their homes surrounded by family, friends and local caregivers.

“After Abby’s discharge, she was referred to the Georgetown Community Hospital cardiac rehabilitation program, which allowed her to be closer to home and her family,” said Jessica Markey, cardiopulmonary rehabilitation supervisor at Georgetown Hospital. “The affiliate relationship we have with the Gill Heart Network allows for seamless transition of her care. During Abby’s rehabilitation journey, we developed a personal relationship with her, celebrated activity progression and advancement toward achieving her goals.”

Abby will need to follow closely with a cardiologist the rest of her life.

“There’s no way to know if a person is a risk for SCAD,” said Fisher. “And unfortunately, there is a 10-30% risk of reoccurrence.”

Seven months later, Abby is back to work part-time; her company held her job for her while she was recovering. Because of her blood-thinning medication, she has to avoid some of the physical activities she enjoyed before, such as skiing. But she and Ryan are finding their way back to normal. As Steelers fans, they were able to sneak away to Pittsburg for a weekend. And their kids will be excited to learn that the trip to Disney World that was supposed to take place last summer is back on the calendar.

“Everything could have gone so differently,” said Fisher. “But she had several key events go in her favor. From her husband hearing her call out and initiating CPR, to having a prompt EMS response and Dr. Gurley's team having such a successful outcome. And importantly, her resilience to survive and recover.”

Even though there is lingering fatigue and the occasional spotty memory, Abby is well on her way to recovery. There was a time when that seemed impossible, but she’s optimistic, and she wants others who may find themselves in a similar position to know that things will get better.

“I used to feel so stressed that I couldn’t remember anything, and how that would affect me,” Abby said. “But it’s funny how fast everything comes back. You think it’s the end of the world. But it’s not. Things will come around.”

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