Surviving a brain aneurysm and subsequent stroke at 21 years old might qualify as a miracle to some people.
Surviving a 50-minute cardiac arrest after a heart attack might also qualify as miraculous.
Pam Williams, pharmacy technician at SSM Health St. Mary’s Hospital- Janesville, and her family have experienced both.
“We’re miracles, that’s what we call ourselves,” Williams said. “We’re the miracle family.”
These miracles are why Williams will walk in the 25th annual Bert Blain Memorial Heart Walk at 7:30 a.m. Sunday at Rotary Botanical Gardens.
When she was 21, Williams woke up around 3 a.m. one morning with what she thought was a terrible headache, she said
She got out of bed to take ibuprofen, but as she walked up the stairs, the right side of her body went numb.
She was physically incapable to open the pill bottle, which was good, because ibuprofen does not mix well with a stroke, Williams said.
“I had no idea what was going on. I was pretty young,” Williams said.
Her vitals initially looked fine when she arrived at the hospital, but after a computerized axial tomography scan, doctors found the brain aneurysm that caused her stroke.
With little hope of her surviving, doctors opened her head to operate. Soon after, her aneurysm burst, Williams said.
Very few people survive an aneurysm burst. Williams’ future looked so bleak that doctors gave Williams’ family her shaved hair to be replaced on her head by the funeral home, Williams said.
While on life support, she motioned for pen and paper. When she got it, she wrote out ‘thank you’ to her doctors. That’s when they knew she would survive.
Now, she says thank you by donating time and money toward the American Heart Association so others can access the resources she and her family did when she was sick.
Later in life, she experienced what is was like to sit alongside the hospital bed after her father had a heart attack, Williams said.
Williams’ father went into cardiac arrest at home, she said. Her stepmom did not know CPR, so she ran to a neighbor for help.
The neighbor got Williams’ father on his back and started performing chest compressions until the emergency medical staff arrived. Once they did, they continued performing compressions for 50 minutes, Williams said.
His healing process was a “long run,” but he is alive and well now, Williams said.
This will be Williams’ second year participating in the heart walk, she said.
“Last year when I did it, I found it very rewarding,” Williams said. “I felt like I was making a difference, so I decided that I wanted to do it again this year and got my team a little bigger and collected a little more money.”
Last year, Williams raised $120, she said. This year, she has raised $245 from asking friends for donations on Facebook. She hopes she’ll have more to donate when she shows up to walk Sunday.
Williams and her heart walk team are part of SSM Health’s overall company contribution to the walk, which has contributed the second-largest amount of money after Blain’s Farm & Fleet, according to the heart walk website.
In 2015, SSM Health had about 50 people participate and raised more than $9,000, said Kathryn Scott, public relations liaison for SSM Health-St. Mary’s Janesville. That increased to 100 people in 2016 and $15,000 raised.
This year, they hope to raise $16,000, Scott said.
Scott said the walk is an opportunity to show people that serious cardiovascular complications can happen to anyone at any time.
Farm & Fleet is the largest company donor for the walk, which it has been since founder Bert Blain died shortly before having the opportunity to participate in the first walk 25 years ago, according to a news release.
The company does not have a specific goal for money raised this year, said Dormie Roberts, public relations representative for Farm & Fleet. In the last 25 years, the company has raised $4.5 million.
“Since our involvement, we have become more aware of the prevalence and impact of heart disease on our customers and our associates,” Roberts said.
The Bert Blain Memorial Heart Walk is the ninth-largest heart walk in the country, said Krystal Webb, communications director for the American Heart Association in Wisconsin.
“Money raised by Wisconsinites stays in the state and saves lives in Wisconsin” and goes toward research and education, Webb said.
In 2016, 43 studies to find cures for heart attacks and strokes were funded with help from the heart walk at Wisconsin research schools such as UW-Madison and Marquette University, Webb said. Contributions toward education totaled $8.6 million.
Still, $2 million in study requests went without funding in Wisconsin last year, which is why Webb said it is important that Rock County continues to give support so cures can be found.
The American Heart Association in Wisconsin is currently focused on educating 911 operators to administer CPR instructions over the phone, Webb said. Getting the fastest help possible is crucial to saving lives when it comes to heart attacks, like it was for Williams’ father.