2024 Go Red for Women Class of Survivors: Kyra Smithlin

The following is Kyra's story and not an endorsement or diagnosis. Stories have been edited down for time.

A Washington mom whose husband’s chest compressions helped keep her alive after a sudden cardiac arrest wants others to learn CPR.

Kyra Smithlin liked to snuggle with her son, Bryce, on Saturday mornings. The 9-year-old noticed that she seemed to drift off to sleep in his bed when he felt her shaking, heard a gasp and thought she was having a seizure. He ran to get his dad, Tony, who found his 48-year-old wife ashen gray and not breathing.

He told his son to call 911, and the boy held the phone to his dad’s ear so he could hear the emergency dispatcher’s instructions as he performed CPR. Tony continued for about eight minutes until the paramedics arrived and delivered four shocks to Kyra’s heart. They got a faint heartbeat and rushed her to the hospital.

Kyra perked up in the emergency room and things seemed normal, but then her eyes rolled back and she collapsed on the bed. The medical team started CPR, then had to shock her heart 40 times over the next eight hours. They burned out two defibrillators. The doctors told Tony to prepare the family for the worst. He told his son it didn’t look good.

Bryce ran past his dad and jumped on his mother’s bed, where she lay in a coma on life support. He stayed next to her all night talking to her, apologizing if he had done anything wrong, telling her he loved her and begging her to stay. Nurses said Kyra’s vitals went up when Bryce talked to her.

A few days later, Kyra came out of her coma and motioned to her husband that she wanted to write something. She scratched out “Bryce is amazing” on a notepad.

Two and a half weeks later, she was well enough to go home after surviving the sudden cardiac arrest. Doctors told her she was likely born with a form of cardiomyopathy, or disease of the heart muscle. They implanted a defibrillator in her chest to shock her heart into a normal rhythm if needed.

Kyra had another sudden cardiac arrest about six months later, fainting at home in Puyallup, Washington, before the defibrillator inside her shocked her heart back to life. Doctors decided to upgrade the unit to a pacemaker/defibrillator.

“It’s such an emotional ride going through that as a family. There's a lot of PTSD,” said Kyra, now 58. “I would come home, and I would be trying to fall asleep at night, and they'd be staring at me, like, is she breathing?”

Kyra believes going to therapy helped her better deal with her cardiac event.

“I felt like it really changes a person mentally just as much as physically,” she said. “I could tell I was a different person. My whole way of thinking was different. I'm a different person, but I'm just as good a person, if not better than I was before.”

To make something positive of the traumatic experience that happened in December 2012, the family shares their story about the importance of CPR. Kyra thinks at least one member of every family should know the skill since about 70% of cardiac arrests that do not happen in hospitals happen at homes. So there’s a good chance if you have to perform CPR, it will be on someone you know.

“I just can't imagine my husband not having jumped in and starting CPR,” Kyra said. “He's told me that, ‘I can't imagine how I would've felt if I would've just stood by and not done anything.’"

Kyra is grateful she gets to make more memories with her family, including celebrating two of her children’s recent weddings. The family is closer now than before.

“As horrible as it was that that happened, it's changed my life and my family's lives in a better way,” she said. “We are way closer. We hug each other tighter. We always say, ‘I love you.’ I don't take a day for granted.”

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