On February 7, Amy Swager will wear red for National Wear Red Day. At the end of the day when you change out of your red clothing, Amy knows she cannot stop supporting the cause because she has heart disease that continues every day.
National Wear Red Day is a day that the American Heart Association initiated in observance of Go Red for Women— an effort to educate women about their No. 1 health threat: heart disease.
Since her heart stopped in December of 2008, Amy has used her ‘extra’ time to educate others. She has volunteered for years for the American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women and Heart Walk events. She teaches Hands-Only CPR, often at the Climax-Scotts High School, so that graduating seniors will meet the state mandate for CPR instruction. She also volunteers for a group called WomenHeart. And, in December 2018, her family held a rebirthday party to celebrate the extra ten years she has lived, inviting her loved ones and those in her small community who saved her life.
It started when Amy Swager, a mother of seven, was at the Trilogy Salon and Spa in Climax, MI setting up for an event the next day. She wasn’t feeling well. Her sister, Cosmetologist Colleen Barnett, was one of the first individuals to start CPR when Amy collapsed. Others called 9-1-1 and the family members nearby.
Swager’s husband arrived and then their mother, Pat Thompson, a nurse practitioner, arrived three minutes later and took over CPR until help arrived. The first responders were people that Amy had known all her life and were friends with. Swager was revived with an automated external defibrillator (AED) and transported to Ascension Borgess Medical Center where a pacemaker was implanted a few days later.
“I died for a little bit, but I’m feeling much better now,” said Swager, who is known for her wit and ability to find humor in most situations. “Trilogy really is a full-service salon. They’ll do your massage, they do your nails, they’ll do your hair, and they’ll jump-start your heart.”
Eleven years later, Swager and her medical team are still searching for answers. It’s unknown why her heart occasionally skips a beat. They do know that she creates adrenaline the way all of us do when something startles us or causes stress, but Swager’s body can’t dissipate the adrenaline. The rapid heartbeat associated with an adrenaline rush can lead to a cardiac overload.
Swager is on her second medical device, now an automated implanted cardio defibrillator, which can pace her heart beats and deliver a shock if it needs to restart her heart. These devices currently last about ten years.
There are medications that can help control arrythmia, but Swager’s body has not reacted to these medications as well as others have. “This is why they call it ‘practicing medicine’. Different medications work differently on people,” she said.
As she searches for the right combination for her body, Swager wants everyone to learn CPR.
“No one should have to do CPR on a family member. But because my sister and mom knew how, they were able to keep the oxygen in my body moving to my brain until the firefighters arrived with an AED to shock my heart back into rhythm. Those two techniques together are what can save lives,” said Swager.
About 70 percent of out-of-hospital cardiac arrests happen in homes according to the American Heart Association. If you need to give CPR in an emergency, you will most likely be trying to save the life of someone you love—a child, a spouse, a parent or a friend. CPR, especially if performed immediately, can triple a cardiac arrest victim’s chance of survival.
Hands-Only CPR has just two easy steps, performed in this order: call 9-1-1 if you see a teen or adult suddenly collapse, then push hard and fast in the center of the chest.
Now celebrating an extra 11 years of life, Swager notes that she is still able to parent her children and meet her grandchildren. She is active in her church and now works as an aid at the Climax-Scotts Elementary School and interacts daily with young students who weren’t alive at the time of her sudden cardiac arrest.
“It’s been a difficult journey. Dying was easy, but the recovery and healing is still going on to this day. I have heart disease every day, and that lasts way beyond National Wear Red Day,” said Swager.
If you are interested in learning CPR, go to Heart.org/CPR for online instruction or to locate a course.