Monday, April 5, 2010

Why I Volunteer – by Gary Terry, Tarrant County volunteer

On the evening of March 19, 2001, I died at the Austin-Bergstrom Airport. Four minutes and 21 seconds later I was revived when an airport policeman utilized an Automated External Defibrillator (AED) on me. By the grace of God and the continuing efforts of the American Heart Association, the AED was only 18 feet from where I collapsed.

Suffering a cardiac arrest differs from a heart attack, in that you have no warning signs before hand. With a heart attack you will most likely notice symptoms such as shortness of breath, pain/tightness in the chest, left arm, neck, jaws and or back, or you could have symptoms similar to extreme indigestion. For example, in November of 1992, while visiting family in Mississippi, I started suffering from what I thought was indigestion. For two days, I suffered — it got so bad that I couldn't get comfortable enough to sleep or rest. When the indigestion wouldn't go away, I finally gave in and let my family take me to a local hospital. The doctors determined that I had suffered a major heart attack and needed to be airlifted to a Memphis, Tennessee hospital that specialized in heart care. I came home with a stent in a major artery.

Fast forward to the Austin airport in 2001. After the cardiac arrest I was taken to a local Austin Hospital where an Internal Cardiovascular Defibrillator (ICD) was implanted in my chest. It's like carrying your own personal AED with you at all times. If my heart goes out of rhythm again, the ICD reads the signs and "KICKS" (big time shock!) me back into rhythm.

Because heart problems run in the family, as well as my own 1992 heart attack, I had already been working as a volunteer with American Heart Association. Since the cardiac arrest incident, I have doubled my efforts, devoting my time to understanding how this happened and then communicating the message about preventing heart disease. Additionally, my greatest volunteer efforts have focused on AED installation. I will spend the rest of my days telling my story about the great need for AED's, and doing what I can to help save lives.

It is so important to support an organization like the American Heart Association. The members of this organization, including the numerous volunteers, raise millions of dollars for research that ultimately move us closer to a cure for cardiovascular disease. The gains they are making are saving untold numbers of lives worldwide. I encourage you all to be a part of the efforts to eradicate the # 1 killer of the human race.

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