BRATTLEBORO—Aug. 2, 2014 started out as a normal Saturday morning for Catherine Fournier and her husband, Rick Chapin.
It was 10 a.m. They were having a conversation in the kitchen in their home in Guilford.
And then Fournier collapsed.
Her heart had stopped beating. She was in full cardiac arrest.
Chapin called 911, and then started performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) on his wife. Guided by the 911 operator, he kept her alive until Rescue Inc. and Guilford Fire and Rescue personnel arrived.
“I had never done CPR before, but the operator talked me through it,” he said.
Rescue paramedics Kyle LaPointe, Phil Clough, and Christine Hume took over. They shocked Fornier three times with a defibrillator, and then took her to the ER at Brattleboro Memorial Hospital.
“She passed out at 10, and by 10:18 she was in the ambulance on the way to the ER,” Chapin said.
Rescue later transported Fournier to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, N.H., where she says doctors found she had five blocked arteries and arrhythmia.
Fournier spent 20 days at Dartmouth-Hitchcock, recovering from heart surgery and the implantation of a defibrillator. She says she doesn’t remember a thing from those three weeks.
But Fournier has nearly recovered from her brush with sudden death, something that often doesn’t happen when sudden cardiac arrest strikes.
“The survival rate for an incident like this — to recover without any impairment — is about five percent,” said LaPointe. “I’ve been doing this for seven years, and this is the first time I’ve seen it.”
The difference, according to Dan Stoughton, one of the Guilford Fire personnel who responded to the incident, “was starting CPR right away, and having a defibrillator in the ambulance when it arrived.”
On Nov. 25 at Rescue Inc.’s headquarters on Canal Street, Fournier met the paramedics who saved her life.
It was part of a photo opportunity organized by Rescue to kick off a campaign to raise $30,000 to buy two additional state-of-the-art cardiac monitor defibrillators to add to the three they already have.
It also served as a reminder for people to learn how to perform CPR, because sudden cardiac arrest — the sudden, unexpected loss of heart function, breathing, and consciousness — can happen anywhere at any time.
Sudden cardiac arrest is different from a heart attack, which occurs when blood flow to a portion of the heart is blocked. However, a heart attack can sometimes trigger an electrical disturbance that leads to sudden cardiac arrest.
Fournier said she had been in good health before her heart stopped.
“I had no warning at all,” she said. “I’d always been a walker, and my mother [Lucinda Fournier] is 100 years old and living at Valley Cares in Townshend.”
Fournier said she is finished with her cardiac rehab work at BMH and is counting down the days before she is cleared by doctors to get behind the wheel and drive again.
“I’ve got a ways to go,” she said, “but I’m feeling better every day.”