Heart Survivor Celebrates Fifth “Birthday”

On May 11, Leigh Pechillo will celebrate her 5th birthday. Five years since her life began, or should we say…began again. She will celebrate by teaching as many people as possible, Hands Only CPR. The one thing that kept her alive until help arrived. Knowing her five-year anniversary was approaching, she wanted to make sure other hearts could be started in an emergency.

The Hands Only CPR training will take place on May 11th from 9am-1pm at Southington High School on 720 Pleasant Street. The first 200 people to register, will receive a FREE American Heart Association CPR Anytime® Kit. If you don’t know CPR, bring the family and learn this life-saving skill. All ages are welcome! To register go to www.inaheartbeat.org/southington-community-heart-starters.

Taking 20 minutes to learn CPR could save a life.

The 20-minute Hands-Only CPR training will provide attendees with the basic skills to save a life from sudden cardiac arrest. According to the American Heart Association, 70 percent of out-of-hospital cardiac arrests occur at home. If someone is called upon to perform Hands-Only CPR, it will likely be trying to save the life of a person they know and love. Hands-Only CPR has been shown to be as effective as CPR with breaths in the first few minutes of an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest for an adult victim and can double or triple their chance of survival.

If you don’t know Leigh’s story, here is Leigh’s story in her own words.

“It was Mother’s Day, May 11, 2014. I woke up to my kids singing a song they wrote for me and sat down to a homemade breakfast made by my husband. But I just wasn’t feeling right. I had terrible heartburn – but I KNEW it wasn’t from my husband’s cooking! And the day before I noticed I had some shortness of breath walking up and down stairs.

My husband suggested I call the doctor who said it might be esophageal, but he couldn’t rule out a heart attack. He told me to take an antacid and if it didn’t feel better to go to the emergency room immediately. I couldn’t find an antacid and we continued our Mother’s Day celebration. My husband noticed I was rubbing my chest. He said, “Let’s go to the ER and make sure everything is okay.”

I just kept thinking, there is NO WAY it can be a heart attack. I’m a mother, I’m a wife. I’m YOUNG! I may not exercise every day and I might not have the perfect diet, but I’ve never been told my blood pressure or cholesterol were a concern. It COULDN’T be a heart attack.

I went to the bathroom to get ready… but I don’t remember anything until four days later.

Leigh and her family in 2014.

I was told I collapsed in my bathroom and my daughter Allie heard me fall. My husband yelled for me and when I didn’t answer he opened the door and found me on the floor. He immediately called 9-1-1, he started administering CPR until the paramedics arrived- while my children knelt and prayed. Ninety percent of out-of-hospital cardiac events end in death because the victims don’t receive CPR.

Every medical professional has called my husband, Tom, a hero, because he DID perform CPR. If he hadn’t, I wouldn’t have survived long enough for them to help save my life.

Once the EMTs arrived, they shocked my heart to get it beating again and brought me to our community hospital where they quickly realized I needed more help than they could give me. From there I was sent via Life Star to another hospital who could provide the care I needed.

There they performed an angiogram and determined I had a 70% blockage in my left anterior descending artery which is known as the “widow maker.” This is one of two arteries coming off the left coronary artery. They discovered that the blockage was high up, so close to the left coronary artery, that placing a stent was going to be extremely risky.

They used preventative hypothermia to cool me to save my brain and organ function.

But over a 3 hour period Monday night into Tuesday, I went into cardiac arrest three times and it took them defibrillating me 13 times to stabilize me. It was then the doctors made the decision not to wait for bypass surgery, but to try and place a stent. At that time the risky option became the only option.

The stent worked! I was grateful to be alive! Four days later, I returned home to my family.

At 44 years old, I was THIS CLOSE to being one in three women who are killed by heart disease or stroke.

But how?!?!

My father passed away at the age of 70 of congestive heart failure after multiple heart attacks, a quadruple by-pass, and an implantable defibrillator. But I knew he had rheumatic fever as a child, he smoked like a chimney for 50 years, he never exercised and had a diet of sugary soda and fatty foods.

But I never took my family history seriously enough.

I never accounted for the stress of being a caregiver to my Dad and my son, along with the everyday stresses we all face.

There is one other question that I have asked myself. Why am I still alive? For that, I have answers. The many prayers that were said for me were answered. The CPR my husband KNEW and administered. The amazing EMTs, along with the skilled doctors and nurses that took such great care of me.

The support of my family and friends near and far. And last, but certainly not least, the American Heart Association.

But that is not the end of my family’s story. Three months after my heart attack, my husband Tom wanted to make sure he was heart healthy. He contacted my cardiologist to get an EKG and echocardiogram and SURPRISE! We found out Tom had a rare congenital heart defect. He underwent open heart surgery just a little over a month ago, and I am happy to say he is doing well and has no further need for OHS.

And on a side note- I am happy to report that my daughter has been cleared of any heart related problems!

My son, my husband and I are living proof that the American Heart Association funds research to provide the protocols and education needed to save lives. For me it was CPR, the drug eluding stent, and Protective hypothermia. And for that, I am ever grateful.”

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