Written by Beth Anspach
Each year, nearly 300,000 people experience sudden cardiac arrest outside of hospitals. And though many do received treatment, more than 90 percent of them die because they do not receive help quickly.
Judy Strnad and her wife, Pat Mikos, of Union, were preparing to host friends for a Super Bowl party in late February of 2010 when the unthinkable happened.
“There was a storm and I was worried about clearing the snow from the satellite dish,” Strnad said. “I wasn’t feeling well and I went to lie down.”
Mikos, who had suffered a fall over Thanksgiving weekend a few months before, was recovering and wheelchair bound on the day when she said Judy “decided to die on the couch.”
“My last words to Pat were ‘we have to cancel the game because of the snow on the dish,’” Strnad said.
Strnad, with no previous signs or symptoms, had a cardiac arrest, which is a sudden, abrupt loss of heart function. Sudden cardiac arrest occurs when electrical impulses in the heart become rapid or chaotic, which causes the heart to suddenly stop beating.
Mikos was in the kitchen when she heard the rattled breathing from the couch. “I called to Judy and there was no answer,” Mikos said. “I turned around and saw that she had gone completely back on the couch so I dove out of my chair to get to her.”
Strnad was rapidly turning blue and Mikos knew from her CPR training that every second mattered. “I started CPR and did mouth to mouth and would get a sound like she was taking a breath,” Mikos said. “I grabbed the phone and called 9-1-1.”
Completely unaware of the passage of time, Mikos continued CPR until paramedics arrived. By that time Strnad had been down for nearly 30 minutes.
“They (paramedics) were working on Judy and they kept looking at me with pity,” Mikos said. “It finally dawned on me that they wanted to code her. I made them keep going with the CPR.”
Once paramedics shocked Strnad with an automatic electronic defibrillator (AED), they were able to restore her heart rhythm. In the hospital, a cardiologist immediately diagnosed her with Long QT Syndrome, after spotting the tell-tale abnormal pattern on Strnad’s EKG tape. Strnad was alive, but after being deprived of oxygen for a half-hour, she had a long recovery ahead.
“They told me only 10 percent of people survive something like this,” Mikos said.
While recovering in the hospital, Strnad had few memories of what had happened to her, and once she was home, she began to experience more side effects of serious brain injury.
Strnad remained on leave from her job with the National Youth Advocate Program in Dayton for several months and she and Mikos, who works at Caresource, began to document the recovery process.
“We wrote everything down from February until May of that same year,” Strnad said. “We wanted to figure out what had happened to my brain. I felt very tired and confused. I couldn’t drive or travel.”
The couple realized that Judy’s brain had been injured but they had no idea what to do about it. “I started looking on the Internet and found the Brain Injury Association of Ohio,” Strnad said. “They referred me to the Rehabilitation Institute of Ohio at Miami Valley Hospital.”
After four months of waiting Strnad, who couldn’t walk a straight line or walk upstairs, received neurological testing. And in December 2010, she entered a comprehensive rehab program that would include speech, occupational and physical therapy.
“I had lost all of my peripheral vision,” Strnad said. “I was also having trouble remembering words. I was testing at a first-grade level. My good memory was gone.”
By 2014, Strnad had started a new job as executive director at Artemis Center and with her internal defibrillator device, she worked to get back to normal.
But the road continued rocky, as Strnad was soon diagnosed with cardiomyopathy and an enlarged heart.
“Pat and I have been together for 31 years, and I’ve been told that I’m not supposed to have lived through this incident,” Strnad said. “I can’t help but wonder what the reason is for all of this. I need to be out there talking about it.”
Strnad and Mikos are starting a company called Scrambled Connections designed to support individuals who have suffered brain injury and their caregivers. The company started as a blog, suggested by Strnad’s physician so that “people will find you,” and the couple developed support group curricula to help families and caregivers prepare for life after rehab.
“Pat didn’t know that she was bringing home an entirely different person,” Strnad said. “We want to support people who have brain injuries. We’d also like to look at protocols around CPR because if Pat hadn’t advocated for me that day, I wouldn’t be here.”
Strnad works every day on ways to keep her brain active and said she and Mikos want people to understand that even in the darkest moments, there is hope.