By Livi Lesch
It was in the dead of the night when Pauline Meyer’s heart stopped beating. Out of pure luck her husband, Travis Meyer, woke from his sleep, swept an arm over her and felt how stiff her body had become. When Travis alerted the entire house, their daughter, Hayley Meyer, called an ambulance and joined her dad performing hands-only CPR. If Pauline’s husband and daughter had not administered CPR, her life would have ended.
“There was no feeling. It was just pure adrenaline,” Hayley recalls. “At that point, instincts kicked in, and it wasn’t until EMS had arrived that we were able to step back and process what happened.”
After a five-day coma, Pauline woke up at MUSC, to her husband’s blurred face. She had no recollection of the attack and events from weeks before.
The doctors were unsure as to why Pauline had a heart attack. She did not have any pre-existing heart conditions.
Pauline was 46 at the time. She says she had no clue that having a heart attack at such a seemingly young age is not uncommon for women. According to the Women’s Heart Foundation, 8 million women in the United States live with heart disease; 35,000 are under age 65.
The day after she regained consciousness, Pauline underwent a procedure to implant a cardioverter defibrillator, which monitors her heart rhythm, in her chest. After being in the hospital for nine days in November 2016, Pauline went home feeling confused and depressed. She spent time trying to cope and make sense of the attack.
“When I came home, I felt like I had just been run over by a bulldozer,” Pauline says.
It wasn’t until her mother visited for Christmas and motivated her to start getting in shape that Pauline’s life started to return to normalcy. Pauline contacted the American Heart Association, and she and Hayley have been active in the organization ever since. The heart association has given them the opportunity tomeet with other struggling survivors, plan events, attend luncheons and advocate for awareness.
“We’ve met with other survivors and chatted and listened to their stories. … It’s been almost like a sisterhood,” Pauline says.
Hayley says she had known she had a knack for medicine since high school, when she first became CPR-certified. When her mother had the heart attack, Hayley was 21 and a student at College of Charleston in the Sport Med program. However, after her mother’s heart attack, Hayley realized she wanted a career closer to patients, such as nursing. Pauline’s husband, Travis, knew CPR because of the time he spent in the military.
Hayley and Pauline will be walking in the Lowcountry Heart Walk at Riverfront Park in North Charleston on Sept. 29, where they will encourage others to learn hands-only CPR and share their story about how it saved Pauline’s life. Hands-only CPR can be more effective than CPR with rescue breaths because the compressions circulate oxygen through the body. According to the American Heart Association, hands-only CPR performed by a bystander has been shown to be as effective as CPR with breaths in the first few minutes of an out-of-hospital sudden cardiac arrest for an adult victim.
“The American Heart Association is so honored to share the Meyers’ incredible story in the community, “ says Jennifer Waites, a marketing director at American Heart Association. “Pauline and Hayley continue to inspire others to learn hands-only CPR and become the next link in the chain of survival. We work with so many local survivors who have been affected by heart disease and stroke, and they continue to motivate the community by sharing their story and encouraging others to take charge of their health.”
Pauline and her family have always been close, but her heart attack taught them to cherish each other. After she recovered, they promised to spend more time together. Pauline says she has always loved being active but fell out of healthy habits a few years before the heart attack. She’s learned to prioritize fitness and her health once again. Exercise has become one of the Meyer family’s favorite pastimes, whether it is hiking, biking or kayaking.
“I wanted to live. I wanted to see my daughter graduate. I wanted to see my kids get married. I wanted to meet grandkids, if there was any. That was my motivator,” Pauline says. “I was saved by them. I was saved for a purpose, and I’m not ready to leave this Earth.”