The miracle lady
Norman Werk got the scare of a lifetime on February 18. It was the day he almost lost his wife.
At about 9:20 that evening, Norman was in the basement of his rural Kensington home when he heard a thump on the floor above him. Thinking his wife, June, may have dropped something, he called up to her. When she didn't reply, he rushed upstairs to find her unresponsive on the floor. She had suffered sudden cardiac arrest.
He called 911 on a speaker phone and immediately began CPR. He had been trained in CPR years earlier for his job with the laborers union, but had never needed to use it - until now.
"I was definitely in need of some updated training, but it's surprising how fast it comes back to you when you need it," he said.
Within minutes the Holmes City First Responders, Douglas County Sheriff's Office and North Ambulance were on the scene, and professionals continued the CPR until a pulse was obtained.
"I'd say she went a good five to six minutes without a heartbeat," Norman said.
On the way to the Douglas County Hospital, June developed ventricular fibrillation and was shocked with an automated external defibrillator (AED).
After midnight, she was airlifted to the St. Cloud Hospital, while Norman and his son followed by car. She was admitted to the coronary care unit (CCU). The process of therapeutic hypothermia was started and June's body was cooled for 24 hours.
This process helps prevent swelling of the brain and lessens the need for oxygen to help prevent brain damage.
Unfortunately, when June's body was warmed to normal temperature, she did not show any significant improvement.
Norman was informed that his wife's prognosis was extremely poor and the odds of her regaining any neurologic function was essentially zero.
"I was told she was brain dead and there was no hope at all," Norman recalled.
After six days in the hospital, June was discharged to return home under Norman's care, with assistance from hospice. A bed was set up in the couple's living room and Norman helped get his wife comfortably settled.
"I was told she would open her eyes occasionally but there wouldn't be anything there," he said. "But when she was home her eyes moved back and forth and I got the feeling she recognized where she was."
Norman held on to what little hope he could. That hope grew the next day when one of June's friends came to visit.
"When she was going to leave she said, 'I've gotta go, but I'll be back,'" Norman explained.
To that June replied, "OK." Her first words since the cardiac arrest.
Norman's shreds of hope became much stronger the following day, when he squeezed his wife's hand and told her he loved her.
"She squeezed mine back and said, 'I love you, too,'" Norman said tearfully. "That sure got my attention!"
Norman called the St. Cloud Hospital and was advised to have June brought back for a neurological assessment. She was transported by ambulance and stayed in the hospital from February 26 through March 12.
"None of them could believe it," Norman said of the medical staff. "They call her 'the miracle lady.'"
On March 12, June was transferred to Knute Nelson in Alexandria where she underwent therapy. On April 9 she was released home and currently undergoes in-home therapy three times a week.
"She's been breaking every goal they set for her," Norman said proudly of his wife. "The first day that they had her walk she walked five feet. The next day she walked 80 feet! She's getting much stronger.
"She still has some memory blocks and is tired, but she's doing alright."
June's heart is now monitored by a pacemaker and defibrillator.
Norman knows he's lucky to still have his wife at his side. Nationally, the survival rate for sudden cardiac arrest is only about 5 percent.
That rate was 9 percent at the St. Cloud Hospital, until the organization joined forces with the Take Heart Minnesota sudden cardiac arrest survival initiative. Since then, the sudden cardiac arrest survival rate at that facility has increased to 19 percent.
According to medical professionals, time is of the utmost importance in saving the life of a cardiac arrest victim. Because of that, everyone is strongly encouraged to learn CPR and how to properly use an AED.
Because Norman started CPR immediately and because qualified medical professionals were on the scene quickly with an AED, Norman was able to celebrate his 45th anniversary with his wife, June, on March 13.
They also have a future to look forward to, including June's 64th birthday in May, time spent with their two grandsons, ages 17 and 11, and time spent with each other.
"We held hands more in six days than we did the last 45 years combined!" Norman said, smiling at his wife. "It was scary, but we're doing OK now."