It was supposed to be an afternoon of leisure for 58-year-old Joan Boyajian and her daughter Bianca, who happened to have the day off from attending school at Sonoma State University. The two met weekly whenever possible to catch up over lunch at the one of the restaurants inside the Graton Resort and Casino in Rohnert Park, Calif.
Mother and daughter gambled a little before sitting down at the Daily Grill to discuss plans and recipes for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday. They finished lunch and, at a moment’s notice, everything changed.
Joan collapsed into sudden cardiac arrest on the ground and was unresponsive to Bianca’s attempts to revive her. The casino staff was quick to start CPR with the use of an automated external defibrillator (AED) until medical personnel could arrive on the scene. The AED is a computerized device used to restart a heart that has stopped beating or is beating too quickly to generate a pulse.
Paramedic Bryan Smith and EMTs Katherine Enders and Johanna Fletcher of the Sonoma County American Medical Response (AMR) team got the call to respond. At the casino, they continued administering CPR along with providing Advanced Life Support interventions until Joan began breathing again and a pulse was detected about 20 minutes later.
“Joan was my first experience with a patient in cardiac arrest,” Johanna says. “Her condition was pretty serious but everyone worked collaboratively to turn things around for her.”
Once resuscitated and stabilized, Bryan remained with Joan for her transport to an area cardiac center. During the ride, he continued to evaluate the mother’s condition and provide supportive care. Upon arrival at the hospital, Joan was taken to the cardiac catheterization lab where she was heavily sedated and put on a ventilator.
Joan’s husband and son met daughter Bianca at the hospital. Together, the family learned the 58-year-old had fluid in her lungs, a possible sign of pneumonia, and that therapeutic hypothermia and a medically induced coma had been performed to keep her alive. Only time would tell if Joan had suffered a loss of brain function during the ordeal.
Cardiac arrest can lead to a heart attack and the loss of neurologic function without timely and appropriate intervention. The quick measures taken by the casino staff and AMR first responders to restart Joan’s heart helped her pull through, and she says she owes her life to everyone involved.
After seven days in the hospital, Joan was released on Thanksgiving Day. Two months later, she underwent open heart surgery to replace her aortic valve.
Bryan, Katherine and Johanna recently had the opportunity to reunite with Joan and meet her family. It was a reunion Joan says she will always cherish.
“Since my surgery, I made it my goal to meet all of the amazing people who were instrumental in saving my life. They truly have a piece of my heart. Because of them, I was able to watch my daughter graduate this year from Sonoma State. I’m so, so blessed,” she adds.