Jennifer Chap – How her Cat, Buddy, Alerted her to her Husband’s Sudden Cardiac Arrest Emergency
Jennifer Chap describes her surreal experience providing CPR to save her husband Rick’s life on what started out as an otherwise typical day working from home. While on a busy conference call with a client, Jen’s beloved cat, Buddy, began behaving erratically, desperately trying to get her attention. When she went to investigate what was wrong, she discovered her husband, Rick, had collapsed in the kitchen and was unresponsive. With the support of a 911 Dispatcher named Kevin, she immediately jumped in and began providing chest compressions. Although it was extremely emotionally and physically taxing to provide chest compressions for nine minutes consecutively, she was able to follow the instructions provided until first responders finally arrived. She describes the ordeal and the moment her husband received a lifesaving shock from an AED, restarting his heart.
Jen has since become an advocate for Sudden Cardiac Arrest awareness and survival by co-founding BuddyCPR, named after her heroic and perceptive cat, Buddy. The mission of BuddyCPR is to save lives from Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA). Jen is also a co-founder of StrataVerve, a strategic marketing, and research practice. Jen is passionate about increasing public awareness and motivating bystander action.
Avive: What do the Bee Gees, a perceptive cat, and a perceptive cat owner all have in common? Well, in 2012 in Orlando, Florida, they all played a role, along with a 911 dispatcher, first responders, and an automated external defibrillator (AED) in saving Rick Chap’s life.
Jennifer: My name is Jennifer Chap. I live in Orlando, Florida with my husband. In my normal life, I am in strategic research and marketing and have been doing this now for about 30 years. Most of my work has been in theme parks and roller coaster rides and things like that, but I never imagined the roller coaster ride that got me into this space.
On the morning of February 27th, 2012 I was in our home office on a busy conference call with clients. One of our cats, Buddy, kindof lived in our office with me. And so I was in there with him with the door closed and my husband was in another part of the house getting coffee. I was really trying to focus on this call when suddenly our cat Buddy just started going nuts. He started meowing and scratching and jumping in my lap, trying to get my attention. And fortunately he did! I picked him up and I took him out of the room, really only to find why he was so upset, and I found my husband, Rick, the love of my life, collapsed on the floor in our kitchen, gasping for air, non-responsive, and not breathing normally. And so I immediately hung up on our clients, had the phone in my hand, and called 911, and I started assessing Rick to try to figure out what was wrong with him. It looked like he was having a seizure.
Avive: But Rick wasn’t having a seizure. He was suffering from Sudden Cardiac Arrest. And as this became apparent, Jennifer and the quick thinking dispatcher joined forces to try to save Rick’s life.
Jennifer: I was so happy to have a dispatcher on the other end of the line. In Orlando, Florida, where I live, dispatchers are trained to tell a caller how to help someone if they are in Sudden Cardiac Arrest. And I didn’t realize it at the time because I called it in as a seizure, because for me, it kind of looked like that. But within a matter of seconds, Rick took his last agonal breath in my arms and he literally was gone. I said to the dispatcher, “I’m losing him. I think I need to do CPR.” And he immediately told me exactly what to do. And it was just the most unimaginable moment any wife, mother, anyone would ever want to have happen. I was all alone, but I had this amazing dispatcher from Orlando Fire Department on the other end of the line. And together we became a team and ultimately he talked me through how to do it. He told me where to press, how hard to press, how deep to press.
Avive: Thanks to a moment of serenity and undoubtedly the adrenaline that was coursing through Jennifer, she was able to focus on what needed to be done to save her husband, which included incredible stamina and physical strength on her part.
Jennifer: He said one thing that I will never forget. He said, “You need to be prepared to do 600 compressions.” And I just about coded myself because I thought, how can I possibly be able to do that? But I took a moment, with Rick turning blue in my arms, and then just closed my eyes and I knew that he was going to be okay regardless, and what I needed to do was just focus on trying to help him as much as I could. He was kind of slumped at the counter on the floor. He’s a big guy, about 225 pounds, and I had to pull him out from that space into a space where I could stretch him out. I don’t even remember it, because his dead weight, pardon the pun, felt just sort of like a feather because all I had in my mind was trying to bring him back. And so I just took a deep breath, and I put my hands in the middle of his chest, and I just started. Kevin on the other end of the line told me to count out loud and he would say, “People are on the way from OFD to help, just keep going, count out loud.” And so I did.
Avive: In Season 11 of the hugely popular television show, Grey’s Anatomy, there’s a scene where the doctors are walking someone through CPR over the phone. In order to help the caller with the speed of the compressions, they advised her to perform them to the beat of an aptly named disco hit from the 1970s.
Jennifer: The funny part of the story is that I’m a little bit of a news junkie. So I knew that a proper beat for CPR was to the beat of Bee Gees’ “Stayin’ Alive”. So it was really surreal because I had that song in my head with my husband dead at my feet, but it helped me. The dispatcher told me I needed to press down two inches on the chest. I kinof had an idea of the speed and the depth and how hard this was going to be, but I just jumped in and I started going and every now and again, he would reassure me, and I would just keep going. And it felt like it was forever. I got to 300 compressions and I lost count. I was so, so, so exhausted, but I just kept going, and kept going, and going, and going, and going…
And finally, I know it seemed like it was forever for me, but I was really at the brink of absolute exhaustion. Kevin told me to go to the door, unlock it, and come right back, they’re right outside. And that’s what I did. And I came right back and started doing CPR again. And while I ran away to the door, I dropped the phone. It was a business phone because I worked from home. And so I had it up under my shoulder the whole time, and I dropped it and I disconnected with him. But I came back and did exactly what he told me to do. And that’s my message. Do exactly what they tell you to do. And even though it’s emotionally draining and physically draining, it isn’t that hard to do. You just become a robot and you just think about the person that you love and you just do everything. Honestly, I think Kevin had told me to cut my right arm off and that would save his life, I would have done it right there on the spot!
Avive: The Orlando Fire Department then took over CPR duties from Jennifer and used the lifesaving AED in order to restart Rick’s heart.
Jennifer: What happened next was I went right back to Rick and I was doing CPR and then in came OFD and one of them came in and immediately took over for me. And then the rest of them kindof came in, and it was like the cavalry coming, they were so focused and they had such a noble purpose in their mindset. I was completely in shock, of course, but I kind of stood back and I watched this scene just play out before me. It was like watching a movie, but I can tell you that CPR is nothing like what you see in the movies. And that’s another message, it’s real and people don’t just get shocked and come right back. What happened in Rick’s case is that they were doing CPR and I watched them put their pads.
And then I was pacing. I was bargaining with God. I was praying. I just wanted to make sure that I had done it right. That’s something that plays over and over my head, even today, “Did I do it right? Did I do it hard enough, deep enough, fast enough? Please, please give him a chance.” And I had to close my eyes when they zapped him with their defibrillator. I kept my eyes closed. And then they said to me, or they just said out loud from the kitchen, “We got a heartbeat.” And I literally checked a mental box that, okay, that’s one hurdle. I got a heartbeat, now let’s just keep going. And so I kind of went back into the kitchen. I was watching them and they intubated him. And then they put the little Ambu bag on, which I now know all the names of these things.
They were breathing for him because he still wasn’t breathing on his own and he still actually didn’t have a pulse. He had a heartbeat, but it hadn’t gotten all the way down to his wrists for a pulse in his wrist, but they quickly loaded him up and took him out the door. But the story doesn’t end there, they came in and they told me that they were going to put him in what they call therapeutic hypothermia, which is where they cool the body down to protect the brain. And that he was in a coma, they put him in a coma, they were gonna put him in ICU. Rick had some scary moments and they had to fix a few of his drugs and things to get him all balanced.
Avive: While the doctors were waking Rick up from the coma, it was uncertain what his level of neurological function would be. That became clear in an unexpected way.
Jennifer: Rick’s brother, who’s kind of a jokester, made some awful joke to Rick. You know, Rick is strapped down, he’s intubated and he wrinkles his brow at that joke. And he looks up at his brother and then he takes his right arm, and it’s strapped down, and he slowly lifts his right arm up and he turns it around. And he forms the most amazing communication with one finger, which I think you can guess which one that was, that was his first form of communication!
Avive: Since almost losing her husband to SCA in 2012, Jennifer has become an advocate for Sudden Cardiac Arrest awareness and survival by co-founding BuddyCPR. And yes, it’s named after her cat. She also has applied her expertise as a market researcher to helping the Sudden Cardiac Arrest Foundation increase awareness about this leading cause of death in the United States.
Jennifer: And then I guess the final chapter, which is yet to be told, is being able to take that experience, share it for good reason and good purpose so that people know this can happen. It happens to seemingly healthy people every single day, this happens to over 350,000 people a year. And sadly, only about 10% of them survive. The chances are so much greater than it is going to happen at home. I think seven out of 10 happen at home. In Sudden Cardiac Arrest, they’re helpless. You have to act, they’re dead. People have the tools in their own two hands to save a life with CPR, but that just buys you time until somebody gets there with an AED. And I was lucky because we lived very close to the fire station. And so I gave CPR for probably about eight to nine minutes.
And so they were able to zap Rick unfortunately got a heartbeat, but not everybody is that fortunate. And so if you have an AED in your home, you have that tool. So that hopefully when EMS gets there, your loved one is going to be awake and talking. And you know, if Rick maybe had gotten the AED sooner, maybe he would have been awake, as opposed to still unconscious and having to go through therapeutic hypothermia. Basically, when you do CPR, you’re taking the blood that’s already in their body, that’s oxygenated, and you’re compressing it. And then when you put somebody on the floor to compress them, their chest compressions, the reason you have to go down two inches is that you’re squeezing the heart. You’re compressing the heart and you’re squeezing that oxygenated blood into their brain to keep them alive, to keep their body from dying. It keeps their brain from dying, but you’re just buying time until somebody gets there. And just like a car that gets jumped started, that’s what an AED does because your heart works on electrical impulses. So just think of it that way. If you don’t have jumper cables, you can’t start your car. And it’s the combination of CPR. You still have to do CPR with an AED. It’s not either/or, it’s both. That’s how important an AED in the home is. Every home should have them.
Avive: Jen wants people to remember that AEDs are designed for anyone to use, not just professional medical personnel.
Jennifer: People are afraid of them. They’re so clinical. And even to this day, you can go into an airport or something and you might see a sign that says “for trained staff only”, and that’s not what they’re there for, they’re there for you to go pull off the wall and save a life. They’ll talk to you. An AED talks to you and tells you everything you need to know. They’ll tell you to stop and stand back. And then they’ll test to see if the person needs to be shocked. So it’s a smart piece of equipment! You don’t have to worry about it so much. You just have to get it on there, right. And it’ll do the rest of the work. And then it’ll tell you how to help it do its work. We believe people need to learn CPR and how to use an AED with a buddy because chances are, you’re the person that may save somebody in your own home or your own household, somebody that you love, or a neighbor. And so getting more AED into neighborhoods and into homes is where we need to go with this because that’s where they happen. That’s where we can make the most difference and save thousands and thousands and thousands of more lives each year.