Shotonda Hazzard’s life changed in a heartbeat. One moment, she was on the line at the battery refurbishment center, the next she awoke at Atlanta’s Select Specialty Hospital.
The 40-year-old mother of one was shocked when the care team filled her in.
Shotonda’s heart stopped. Her father had died years earlier from a similar condition, in which the heart suddenly goes dangerously out of rhythm.
Fortunately, her coworkers had the tools and training to save her life. One dialed 911, while others raced for the automatic external defibrillator (AED). They delivered life-sustaining shocks and CPR that kept Shotonda’s heart and breathing rhythm going until emergency crews arrived.
By the time she arrived at the local hospital, Shotonda’s body temperature had dropped to a dangerously low level. In the ER, she was rewarmed with intravenous saline and blankets and placed on a ventilator. When it became apparent her needs outstripped their capacity, doctors sent her by ambulance to Piedmont Atlanta Hospital. There, she was connected to an extracorporeal membrane oxygenation machine (ECMO), which supplied oxygen directly to the bloodstream. Additionally, an aortic balloon pump, which allows the heart to pump more blood using less energy, was inserted.
It took two months for Shotonda to stabilize. While family cared for her 8-year-old son Messiah, Shotonda grew strong enough to have a pacemaker (a device that automatically detects and corrects heart rhythm issues) implanted. With ECMO and the balloon pump discontinued, Shotonda’s family took physician recommendations and chose Select Specialty Hospital for her extended healing and recovery.
She arrived on a ventilator, unable to speak, eat or move independently. Her family wanted Shotonda back with her son, so a physician-led team, including nurses and therapists, created a plan to get her there.
Respiratory, physical and occupational therapists teamed with nurses to begin a mobility program. Through targeted, in-bed range of motion exercises and placing Shotonda in a supported chair, her core muscles began to rebuild and her mind started to clear.
With the mental fog lifted, she participated actively in physical, occupational, speech and respiratory therapies. At first, she could only move in bed or sit at its edge. Over several weeks, Shotonda transitioned from sitting to standing. Increased activity and breathing exercises improved lung function and oxygen support was discontinued.
“Being confined to a hospital bed with a sick heart was scary,” Shotonda said. “It felt like I lost freedom. And not being able to see my son made me sad. But, we were able to FaceTime a lot and that made us both happy.”
Initially tentative to take her first step between her bed and a chair, Shotonda progressed to walks down the hallway and time in the hospital’s therapy gym.
Speech therapists also worked to restore her eating abilities through jaw, tongue and throat exercises. When Shotonda was cleared for regular meals, the first thing she requested was a Subway sandwich and dill pickles. It was a major milestone, Shotonda said, because it meant life was getting back to normal.
In between therapy sessions, Shotonda – an avid shopper – filled her Amazon cart or chatted by phone or video with coworkers, Messiah and family members. It was heartening, she said, to hear how much everyone loved and missed her.
After three months in hospitals, Shotonda met all goals and was ready to return home.
She was eager to hug Messiah, get back to her garden and, eventually, rejoin her coworkers.
Shotonda is eternally grateful for their quick, life-saving action, as well as all the support received from the staff of Select Specialty Hospital.
“Everyone was super-supportive,” she said. “I couldn’t ask for a better team surrounding me.”