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Miracle Mile: Heartfelt Ending for Sudden Cardiac Arrest Survivor

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SARASOTA, Fla. (April 2011) – When her heart stopped beating in the car on the way to her son’s middle school Feb. 9, Cindy Hemberger passed out in one of the best places in North Port to suffer sudden cardiac arrest.

The 61-year-old North Port mother of two collapsed – clinically lifeless – a mere mile from Sarasota Memorial’s North Port Emergency Room, the only medical facility offering emergency care in a 20-mile radius.

family by a tree“I know I broke every speed limit getting there, but I didn’t care,” said Cindy’s husband Rod Hemberger. “It was very intense. I knew my wife wasn’t breathing and I was steering with one hand, beating on her chest with the other, all the while listening to my 12-year-old son in the backseat yelling ‘Go faster, Dad, go faster.’

“When we pulled into the parking lot, my heart sank because I just knew she was dead.” Technically, she was dead. When triage nurse

Deb Dalos met the family at their car, Cindy had no heartbeat, no pulse and was turning grey from lack of oxygen. She immediately called a Code Blue, setting in motion advanced treatment protocols that have placed Sarasota Memorial among the top 1 percent of hospitals for clinical quality and cutting-edge care.

In the ER, it took about 10 minutes and eight heartbeat-restoring shocks from a defibrillator to restart Cindy’s heart and a ventilation tube to open her airway. As they continued working to stabilize her, ER staff also initiated a therapeutic hypothermia protocol and prepared her for air transport to Sarasota Memorial’s main campus.

She had suffered a massive heart attack and sudden cardiopulmonary (or cardiac) arrest – an extremely dangerous condition from which most people – even if they make it to the hospital – do not survive.

“She’s one of those patients you never forget … by all rights, she shouldn’t be alive today,” said North Port ER Dr. Frank Biondolillo.

The advanced protocols Sarasota Memorial used to save Cindy’s life demonstrate a sharp medical disparity across the nation. Despite studies clearly documenting its benefits for cardiac arrest patients, therapeutic hypothermia is a standard of care not offered in many hospitals. And not all hospitals are as adept or equipped to perform emergency angioplasty. Sarasota Memorial’s DASH protocol – Direct Angioplasty Saves Hearts – ensures those who need it receive lifesaving angioplasty within the first crucial minutes of arriving at the hospital. Studies show that hospitals with faster door-to-balloon (angioplasty) times have better patient outcomes, fewer complications and lower mortality rates.

By the time Cindy’s family drove from North Port to Sarasota Memorial’s main campus, they discovered Cindy’s emergency angioplasty and stent placement had already been completed. She had been transferred to the hospital’s Cardiac Intensive Care Unit, where intensivists and critical care nurses monitored her around the clock. After 18 hours in the medically induced coma, the critical care team re-warmed her body over the next eight hours and she awakened – tired, but with no signs of brain damage. On average across the nation, experts say, fewer than 10 percent are that lucky. In a community that lacks a hospital of its own, she is extremely grateful for Sarasota Memorial’s far reaching emergency care and the life saving protocols that granted her a second chance at life … and gave her what may be the most important Mother’s Day yet with her family: husband Rod, son Don and 27-year-old daughter Kari.

“I can truly say that Sarasota Memorial and the North Port ER really touched my heart.”

About Sarasota Memorial:
Sarasota Memorial Health Care System is a regional referral center offering Southwest Florida’s greatest breadth and depth of inpatient, outpatient and extended care services, with more than 700,000 patient visits a year. A recent government study, Sarasota Memorial outperformed most U.S. hospitals in caring for heart attack patients. It was ranked #1 in Florida and #2 in the nation for having the lowest (best) heart attack readmission rates of all 4,400 hospitals in the Medicare study. Sarasota Memorial’s 806-bed acute care hospital has been recognized repeatedly as one of the nation’s largest, safest and best, with superior patient outcomes and a complete continuum of outpatient services– from urgent care walk-in clinics and physician groups, laboratory and diagnostic imaging centers, to home health and skilled nursing & rehabilitation. The network includes a full service freestanding ER in North Port to serve the medically underserved community. For information, visit:

youtube screenshotIn Her Own Words
Cindy & Rod Hemberger and Sarasota Memorial cardiologist Mark Ramos share her survivor story on video … watch it on Sarasota Memorials YouTube Education channel:

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