Presence Saints Mary and Elizabeth Medical Center

Young and healthy, Brittany Carminati, 34, never thought her life could change so drastically in one day and be near death's door.

Brittany Carminati family

On September 30, 2014, Carminati's heart stopped and she went into cardiac arrest. She collapsed to the ground as she was heading to the el. The owner of a small IT consulting business had a full day of meetings at PrimeCare Community Health, a nearby health center affiliated with Presence Saints Mary and Elizabeth Medical Center (PSMEMC). Luckily, a woman driving by saw her lying on the sidewalk. The Good Samaritan stopped her car and began to administer chest compressions. She also called 911.

"When the paramedics came over, they said I was blue and gone - they didn't think I would make it," said Carminati, who is married with a 20-month-old daughter. Cardiac arrest is a life-threatening emergency when the heart stops pumping and there is no blood circulation to the brain or body. It is usually caused by problems with the heart's electrical system.

Heart Still Not Beating
In addition to compressions, the paramedics used a defibrillator in the ambulance to deliver electric shocks to the heart muscle to restart her heart without success. Upon arriving at the PSMEMC Emergency Department, Carminati's heart was still not beating. The ER team delivered three electric shocks and there was a return of a spontaneous heartbeat.

"I was told my heart was not beating on its own for 10 minutes - what kept me and my brain alive were the ongoing chest compressions," said the South Loop resident, commenting on the Good Samaritan who helped save her life.

Once her heart was beating on its own, she was transferred to the ICU at PSMEMC, where she was sedated and put in an induced coma for two days. She was on a breathing machine for three days. Carminati was under the supervision of Jaime Bolano, MD, an internal medicine primary care provider and the ICU team. Steven Yellen, MD, board-certified in cardiovascular disease and internal medicine, performed an angiogram that showed a previously undiagnosed weakness in the heart muscle. Blood work also showed her potassium level was low, which may have contributed to cardiac arrest. During her 10-day hospital stay, Samer Dibs, MD, board-certified in clinical cardiac electrophysiology and cardiovascular disease, performed a procedure to insert a defibrillator near her shoulder to deliver electric shock should her heart go into cardiac arrest again.

Family Didn't Know Outcome
During her 10-day stay at PSMEMC, Carminati's family from out-of-state took shifts at her bedside. They didn't know what the outcome would be after she was brought out of the coma.

"When it was time to unsedate me, my family didn't know if there would be loss of brain function or if I could breathe on my own," said Carminati, who was sedated most of her stay and doesn't remember much.

ICU nurse Ruairi Brady, RN, BSN, CCRN, unsedated her. The best way to discern brain function is to ask a patient to follow commands. Brady asked her to wiggle a toe and finally to give him a thumbs up. She followed his commands.

Making a Full Recovery
"It was a turning point for my family - that I would make a full recovery," said Carminati, who attends cardiac rehabilitation several times a week. It is expected that medication therapy will help her heart muscle get stronger.

For now, Carminati is thankful to be alive. She is counting her blessings on being given a second chance at life.

"They (the health care team) did everything for me - and they did it right," said Carminati, who considers the excellent care as life-saving. "My family felt comfortable here. I'm thankful for the care. My family raved about the nursing staff. Everyone was awesome."

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