Minnesota woman survives after 25 minutes without pulse, warns others about sudden cardiac arrest

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A Minnesota woman who went 25 minutes without a pulse is sharing her survival story to raise awareness of sudden cardiac arrest (SCA).

Cheryl Jordan Winston was 48 years old in 2020 when she collapsed in her bedroom after experiencing SCA. 

Her husband performed CPR until the paramedics arrived and shocked her with an AED (automated external defibrillator).

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Winston was taken to the hospital and put in a medically induced coma, where she remained for two weeks. 

“Despite being without a pulse for 25 minutes, I have no long-term side effects and have been able to return to normal life,” she told Fox News Digital in an interview.

Cheryl Jordan Winston

In 2020, Cheryl Jordan Winston was 48 years old when she collapsed in her bedroom after experiencing SCA.  (Cheryl Jordan Winston)

Prior to experiencing her SCA, Winston had no symptoms at all — no fatigue or chest pain. She would later learn that it’s common for there to be an absence of symptoms prior to that type of cardiac event.

“I’ve also had no prior history of heart issues,” she said. “While there’s some family history of high blood pressure, there was nothing unusual in my family that would be linked to sudden cardiac arrest.”

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As part of a worldwide clinical study, Winston received an implanted cardioverter defibrillator (ICD), the Medtronic Aurora EV-ICD, to prevent future life-threatening episodes.

“It monitors my heart, and if it sees an arrhythmia, it will provide therapy to return my heart rhythm to normal before a cardiac arrest,” she said. “I feel it’s added protection for me, since they never found a cause for my cardiac arrest.”

Cheryl Jordan Winston

Winston is shown in the hospital after experiencing her sudden cardiac arrest in 2020.  (Cheryl Jordan Winston)

Within two weeks, Winston was able to return to work and normal activities.

“I am feeling great,” she told Fox News Digital. “I make it a point to continue exercising regularly and focus on eating a healthy diet, just as I did before experiencing sudden cardiac arrest.”

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Dr. Alan Cheng, chief medical officer of Medtronic’s cardiac rhythm management division in Minneapolis, warned that cardiac arrest often results from a dangerously fast heart rhythm, and is deadly if not treated immediately. 

“For patients at risk of developing these abnormal rhythms or who have already suffered cardiac arrest, we implant a stopwatch-sized defibrillator,” he told Fox News Digital. 

“They monitor the heart’s rhythms 24×7, and deliver either a high-energy shock or low-energy, nearly undetectable, pacing pulses to restore the heart to a normal rhythm.”

Cheryl Jordan Winston

Winston is pictured with some of the nurses who cared for her during her hospital stay. (Cheryl Jordan Winston)

ICDs have been around for more than 40 years, Cheng noted — but the one Winston received is different than the traditional version.

“ICDs are traditionally placed in the upper chest, with thin wires, called leads, threaded through the veins into the heart,” he said.

“Despite being without a pulse for 25 minutes, I have no long-term side effects and have been able to return to normal life.”

“They work extremely well in saving lives, but there are potential complications associated with those leads in the heart. With the new Aurora EV-ICD, that lead is placed outside the heart, under the sternum (breastbone).”

What to know about SCA

SCA is common and may account for about 15% of total fatalities, according to Dr. Mustali Dohadwala, medical director and practitioner at cardiology-focused private practice Heartsafe Boston. 

(Dohadwala was not involved in Winston’s care.) 

The doctor confirmed that sudden cardiac arrest typically occurs without any preceding signs or symptoms.

Sudden cardiac arrest

Sudden cardiac arrest is common and may account for approximately 15% of total fatalities, a cardiologist said. (iStock)

“Unfortunately, it can be an unheralded event that comes on spontaneously without warning,” he told Fox News Digital. “Up to 50% of those affected by SCA might have symptoms weeks prior to an SCA event or up to just minutes preceding an SCA.”

These symptoms may manifest as chest pain, shortness of breath, racing or skipping heart, lightheadedness or dizziness.

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“If someone experiences any of these symptoms, they should seek additional help and medical attention or have someone nearby call 911 immediately,” said Dohadwala.

Who is at highest risk?

SCA can stem from a multitude of conditions, Dohadwala noted, including advanced lung disease, significant sleep disorders, an extraordinarily stressful or anxiety-provoking situation, a severe injury, substance abuse or unintentional overdose of prescribed medications.

“However, it is most likely to occur in people who already have an underlying heart condition, whether it’s previously known or unknown,” Dohadwala said. 

“SCA is the initial manifestation of significant coronary heart disease in 15% of those who suffer from this event.”

MDT Aurora EV-ICD illustration in chest_low res 1

As part of a worldwide clinical study, Winston received an implanted cardioverter defibrillator (ICD), the Medtronic Aurora EV-ICD, to prevent future life-threatening episodes. (Medtronic)

Risk of SCA also rises with age and other risk factors such as diabetes, uncontrolled cholesterol, cigarette smoking, heavy alcohol consumption or a strong family history, he added.

Men are up to three times more likely to suffer SCA than women. 

“Reasons for this are not well understood, but some researchers have considered that the estrogen hormone that is produced by a woman’s body might have beneficial effects on blood cholesterol levels, as well as protective effects on blood vessels,” Dohadwala said.

Tips for surviving and preventing SCA

Sudden cardiac arrest is particularly dangerous, Dohadwala said, “because it occurs as a result of sudden cessation of mechanical activity of the heart, resulting in a non-viable pulse and collapse of blood pressure, which can lead to sudden death.”

The doctor added, “Despite the many advances in the treatment of heart disease, the outcome and survival of patients suffering SCA remain poor.”

cpr practice

To increase chances of survival, a cardiologist recommends immediate CPR and defibrillation with an AED to restore electrical activity, heart muscle contraction and a viable pulse. (iStock)

To increase chances of survival, Dohadwala recommends immediate CPR (chest compressions) and defibrillation with an AED to restore electrical activity, heart muscle contraction and a viable pulse.

“This can improve the survival and overall outcomes significantly when compared with people suffering SCA receiving more delayed CPR from EMS personnel,” he said.

“Despite the many advances in the treatment of heart disease, the outcome and survival of patients suffering SCA remain poor.”

Dohadwala also recommends an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator, like the one Winston has, to prevent the recurrence of another potentially deadly event.

For patients who have one or more coronary artery blockages, treatment may also include an angioplasty, placing of stents or a surgical coronary artery bypass, he said.

Cheryl Winston split

(“It’s important for women to advocate for not only their heart health, but their health in general,” Winston said. “You know your body best, so if something feels wrong, go to your doctor to get checked.”)

Winston echoed the importance of people learning to perform CPR.

“It saved my life,” she said. “Fewer women receive bystander CPR, which needs to be administered quickly in a case of sudden cardiac arrest.”

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She also emphasized that patients — women in particular — need to be their own medical advocates.

“It’s important for women to advocate for not only their heart health, but their health in general,” she said. “You know your body best, so if something feels wrong, go to your doctor to get checked.”

AED defibrillator

An automated external defibrillator (AED) in a white box is an emergency defibrillator for people in cardiac arrest. (iStock)

Dohadwala noted that adjustments in medications and healthy lifestyle choices can help reduce SCA risk. 

“It is possible that a heart-healthy lifestyle leading to controlled blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol levels through a thoughtful and discretionary diet, increasing regular physical activity, intentional weight loss, and stopping cigarette smoking might reduce SCA events,” he said.

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For those with a family history, genetic screenings might be an option. 

“The more awareness and knowledge we have about our health history, the better chance we have of avoiding problems like SCA in the future,” Dohadwala added.

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