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When Rob Elliott told his wife he was unable to move a muscle and then blacked out, she called 911, performed CPR and searched for his pulse. She didn't find one until a half-hour later.
Elliott, a 45-year-old attorney, had suffered a sudden cardiac arrest, an abrupt loss of heart function that kills more than a quarter-million Americans each year.
When the paramedics arrived at Elliott's home, they continued the work his wife had started, even though they said they couldn't find his pulse either.
Daren Jenner, the lead paramedic on the scene, said Elliott was even hooked up to a cardiac monitor, which showed no pulse.
"We had him connected to the cardiac monitor, and we were continuously checking his pulse," Jenner said on ABCNEWS' Good Morning America. "No pulse for nearly 30 minutes. And really I've never seen anything like this in my 15 years as a paramedic. It's just a miracle. It's unbelievable."
'A Complete Turnaround'
When Elliott's pulse was finally detected, Jenner thought he would never have a chance to talk to the man he had helped save.
"My biggest fear [was that] later on when I wanted to follow up on him is that I would find out that he unfortunately was never going to wake up," Jenner said. "But when I did call to follow up on him, he was awake and he talked to me on the phone."
When Elliott's wife, Dana, arrived at the hospital with their two young children the day after his cardiac arrest, she expected to find her husband clinging to life. Instead she found him conscious and smiling.
"He's sitting up and says, 'Hi, babe.' So, it was a complete turnaround," Dana Elliott said. "And you could've knocked me over with a feather."
Cardiac arrest is reversible if it's treated within a few minutes with an electric shock to the heart to restore a normal heartbeat. A victim's chances of survival are reduced by 7 percent to 10 percent with every minute that passes without defibrillation.
Dr. Paul Pepe, chairman of emergency medicine at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, says Dana Elliott's ability to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation on her husband was invaluable.
"Under any circumstances, most people who survive get their pulse back in the first five or 10 minutes," Pepe said. "It's rare for someone like this to survive with no damage to the brain. I think the message to take home is that everyone needs to know CPR."
The Importance of Learning CPR
Pepe says CPR can help keep a victim of sudden cardiac arrest alive until the person can be treated with a defibrillator -- an electronic device that restarts the heart -- or until paramedics arrive.
Elliott has always been fit. He ran a 7.5-mile race a week before the sudden cardiac arrest, and 3 miles that morning. He would have never have suspected that he would be a candidate for this type of problem. Elliott has since learned that victims of sudden cardiac arrests can look and feel healthy.
Most of the cardiac arrests that lead to sudden death occur when the electrical impulses in a diseased heart become rapid, chaotic or both. This irregular heart rhythm, known as an arrhythmia, causes the heart to suddenly stop beating.
The day after Elliott's sudden cardiac arrest marked the couple's 14th wedding anniversary, and he says he'll never able to top this year's anniversary present to his wife.
"She got a much better gift than she thought she was going to get," Elliott said, then joked, "What am I going to do next year?"
Victims of a sudden cardiac arrest may be at risk for future arrests, especially if they have underlying heart disease. Elliott and all survivors of cardiac arrests must search for all possible causes and treatments in order to prevent future episodes.
It's been one month since Elliott was stricken, and he says he feels no different than he did before the frightening incident.
"A lot of people have asked me if I had some sort of an out-of-body experience," Elliott said. "But unfortunately, I don't remember anything that happened. I'm pretty much the same person I was before I suffered the cardiac arrest."
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