On July 20, 1990, my heart stopped beating. For 22 minutes, I was dead.
My husband, children and friends watched as doctors took turns regaining a weak pulse. I was 35, an avid marathon runner and triathlete with no history of cardiac problems. That I survived was mystifying. Tests and opinions could not tell what happened. No hope of full recovery was offered. The cause was uncertain as was my future.
Although grateful to be alive, I found return to life challenging. Battling cognitive delays, depression, physical limitations, intense anger, spiritual angst and consuming fear was my new reality. I didn’t recognize my husband or children. I understood just enough to know I was in serious trouble.
Consulting with the cardiologist I asked about running. He replied: “You will never run again. You can walk, but you will never run again.” I thought; This cannot be happening. He left me with no hope. Unable to participate in previously enjoyable events, I spun into a deep depression. The life I knew dissolved. Physically exhausted, dependent on others I became angry with God. Nighttime was the worst. You died, and no one is sure what happened replayed in my head. What if it happens again? I was in constant fear of death. Still angry with God I had not prayed since my accident. But I finally gave up. Getting on my knees I pleaded; God, take these feelings away from me. I cannot live with this fear anymore. I got back into bed and slept peacefully through the night. That fear never returned.
Fiercely independent and strong I came through other challenges. But this was big. I met my match. Holding onto narrow control my energy needed to focus on a future. With intense determination I returned to life and activities, accepting the accident, reflecting on, reinterpreting and eventually developing an appreciation for the event. I consider every day a gift. I focus on what I can do. I was given back my life—a purposeful, fulfilling life—something I had been told not to expect.
I recently reached my 50th birthday. While out for a run, I thought: 50 years old. Then the insight came. I should celebrate it! I was able to be 50. I made a choice to define my life by how I lived after the accident and create my own future.
My life is full. I have seen all my children graduate from college and watch both daughters married. I am blessed with grandchildren. My son, a baby when I almost left him forever, is a man. My husband Terry and I celebrated over 30 years of marriage. I earned a doctorate studying survivors. I never gave up hope. It is the fuel that allowed survival.
Finally, I completed several marathons and triathlons but not with the same intensity. It didn’t matter. I learned a new way to think about the power of the human spirit—of my spirit.
These are the gifts I was given.