JANESVILLE, WI – Jenny Carhart woke up in the middle of the night Nov. 8 to an unintentional punch in the face from her husband, Brian.

A heart attack was causing his body to convulse and his arm to piston outward.

Panicking and scared, Jenny called 911. Jenny had never performed CPR on anyone—or even taken classes to learn how.

The 911 operator, Amanda Johnson, had never guided anyone doing CPR before. Still, she was able to help Jenny by making a tapping sound on the phone to mark time between chest compressions, Jenny recalled. “Tap, press, tap, press” over and over. “Minutes seem like hours” during a heart attack, Brian said.

Healthy hearts

The Carharts shared their story Wednesday during an open house at Mercyhealth Heart and Vascular Center in Janesville. In honor of February as Heart Month, Mercyhealth invited heart attack and stroke survivors for a healthy lunch to celebrate their heart health accomplishments.

Stephanie Kittleson, manager of cardiac rehabilitation at Mercyhealth, said sharing stories can help people heal. Healing after a heart attack or surgery has both physical and mental aspects, she said. The cardiac staff wanted the event to provide a larger support system for those who are healing. All of the people who attended Wednesday’s open house had suffered heart events within the last year, according to a news release.

Staying alive

In her bedroom, Jenny continued CPR until the Janesville Fire Department arrived and hooked Brian up to a defibrillator. They transported him to Mercyhealth Hospital and Trauma Center, where he was treated, Jenny said.

The day leading up to his heart attack was as normal as any other day, Brian said. He didn’t remember experiencing any symptoms. Brian believes his heart attack was caused by discontinuing medication he took after his first heart attack. That one woke him up in the middle of the night May 11, 2001. He remembers Jenny taking him to the hospital, where he collapsed in the waiting room. There was no single person who saved his life during either heart attack, Brian said, but if not for Jenny, he might not have made it to the hospital.

The Janesville natives have been together for 23 years and got married in July 2017, Jenny said. They have a son, Kyle, who serves in the Army in Alaska. With help from Mercyhealth and the American Red Cross, Kyle came home to help his mom while his dad recovered, Jenny said. It was a huge help having them there for support, Brian said. Once Brian was back on his feet, the couple visited the fire department and Rock County Communications Center to thank the people who helped save Brian. Brian said he realizes he is lucky to be alive. He believes he has a guardian angel.

Celebrating healing

The Carharts said they enjoyed hearing stories from fellow survivors Wednesday.

Kittleson said heart attack and heart disease survivors meet with doctors to manage their health long after they are released from the hospital.

To maintain a healthy heart, survivors often have to take medication, increase exercise, quit smoking, monitor glucose levels and take other precautions, Kittleson said. Cardiac staff can do a lot to help survivors remain healthy, Kittleson said. The staff’s main goal is to empower patients to take control of their health and prevent another heart event from happening.

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