Grandmother In the Right Place at the Right Time During Sudden Cardiac Arrest

Joni Smith.jpeg

When Joni Smith, 60, of Mapleton woke up on Saturday, February 4, 2023 she was full of energy looking forward to a busy day. It was her granddaughter Brooklynn’s birthday, so she spent some time in the morning frosting cakes and getting ready for a party later in the day.

The Westwood Rebels were playing basketball games in Mapleton that night. Joni carved out a little time in the early evening to stop in and see some of the kids she knew play.

With Brooklynn at her side they cheered the Rebel girls on to victory. After taking in the first half of the boys’ game Joni decided she and Brooklynn would make their way home. On her way out of the gym Joni’s busy day came to a screeching halt.

“I got off the bleachers, stopped and talked to some people and went to put my coat on,” Joni says. “I got to the door of the cafeteria, felt lightheaded and grabbed the wall. I slid down the wall, passed out and after a few minutes, I woke up and was saying that I was hot and tried to get up. People around me told me the ambulance was coming.”

The cardiac arrest was caused by an abnormal rhythm in Joni’s heart called ventricular tachycardia. Thankfully there were several trained medical personnel in the gym for the game who were able to perform chest compressions and shock Joni with an Automated External Defibrillator (AED) to get her heart started again while EMT’s made their way to the high school.

The EMT’s transported Joni to the nearest hospital, where Wings Air Rescue was waiting to transport Joni to UnityPoint Health – St. Luke’s. The St. Luke’s Emergency Room team ensured she was stable and connected her with cardiologist Edward Zajac, MD, FACC of UnityPoint Health – St. Luke’s Cardiology and Cardiovascular Associates.

Joni spent Saturday and Sunday in the ICU under observation. On Monday, Dr. Zajac performed a cardiac catheterization procedure which showed no signs of a heart attack and that the heart looked good.

“Cases like Joni’s are ideal," Dr. Zajac says. "From the fast action of EMS and community members at the scene to the coordination of care between the Emergency team and Cath Lab here at the hospital, everything worked together seamlessly giving Joni the best chance at a successful outcome and full recovery.”

According to Dr. Zajac, after the catheterization, it was determined that a defibrillator would be put in and Joni could go home Wednesday. Joni says looking back she didn’t have any symptoms leading up to the incident. She also says she feels thankful she was in the right place at the right time.

“When my son Brad arrived at the high school, after receiving the call that I had collapsed, he thought I was gone,” says Joni, who also has a younger son, Brady. “It is hard for me to believe that sitting here today, what the outcome could have been. Again, I was very lucky to be in the right place at the right time.”

Just three weeks after the incident Joni is back to a normal level of activity. She credits the incredible care she received at St. Luke’s for helping her remain at ease throughout the ordeal and putting her in a position to focus on healing.

“The team at St. Luke’s constantly reassured me that they knew what to do and how to do it,” Joni says. “Dr. Zajac left me feeling confident after each interaction. The doctors, nurses and everyone else at St. Luke’s were top-notch.”

“I am just so very lucky,” Joni continues. “There were a lot of angels looking over me!”

To learn more about St. Luke’s comprehensive cardiology services, including our Done in Day cardiac screening program, call (712) 279-7979.