Lauri Evan's Why
December 17, 2015, was a festive day at Oakwell Academy, an elementary school in College Station, Texas. It was the last day before the holiday break, and co-founder, Lauri Evans, was hosting a Christmas party.
After escorting a student who had to leave early out of the building, Lauri was walking back inside with Betty Chambers, the grandmother of another student, when she took a few labored breaths and her heart stopped. Lauri collapsed in front of 18 children, including her two oldest — Jacob, now 9, and Audrey, now 7. (She has two other children — Oliver, 4, and Lucy, 2.)
Betty owns a day care center and is trained in CPR, which she administered immediately and shouted for someone to call 911.
“I knew she wasn’t breathing,” said Betty, who used her CPR skills for the first time in 25 years that day. “I’m crying the whole time. She started breathing, but the breath she was making was horrible. I remember my CPR instructor said a gasp is not a good breath and to keep the compressions going.”
Betty continued CPR until paramedics arrived. Lauri’s heart stopped twice, requiring EMTs to shock her heart with a defibrillator at the school and again in the ambulance.
“Everything I’ve learned since then is that [Betty] being there and administering CPR not only saved my life but preserved my quality of life,” Lauri said.
Nearly 90 percent of people who suffer out-of-hospital cardiac arrests die, but CPR, especially if performed in the first few minutes, can double or triple a person’s chance of survival.
Lauri’s heart attack was the result of a tear in the wall of a coronary artery, called a spontaneous coronary artery dissection (SCAD). When the artery wall tears, it blocks blood flow to the heart. Her left main artery was 99 percent blocked.
SCAD has several causes, but none was ever identified in Lauri’s case. She did not have any underlying diseases or heart risk factors, such as smoking, obesity or high blood pressure. “I lived a healthy lifestyle beforehand, so I made no major changes, but I am more aware of my heart and I do think more about ways to be proactive in keeping my heart healthy,” she said.
Lauri doesn’t remember, but her husband, Ray, told her that in the days between Thanksgiving and her heart attack, she had several instances of lightheadedness and shortness of breath.
“I had been planning to go in to my doctor during the break because I had not been sleeping well and had been under a lot of stress,” Lauri said. “I just wasn’t feeling like myself. I just didn’t realize.”
The Evanses had tremendous support from families and friends at the school and their church. “People did our laundry, played with our kids, cleaned our house, ran our errands,” Lauri said. “It was amazing, and it helped Ray and our kids so much. Ray has been a true hero for our family in offering his strength and faith and leadership to us through the shock of the event and through my recovery.”
Lauri’s heart attack had salutary effects on her family. “SCAD has so many causes that we almost learned about heart disease because of what SCAD is not,” she said. “For instance, to understand why my heart attack wasn’t a ‘typical’ heart attack, we first had to learn about what different factors contribute to a ‘typical’ heart attack. To learn why I was on a medicine for a short time but not long term, we had to learn about why it would normally be prescribed and why that wasn’t an issue for me.”
After being released from College Station Medical Center on Dec. 30, Lauri signed up herself, her five-person school staff and several parents for CPR training through CPR Brazos Valley.
“You may not need it very many times, but when you do need it, it is so essential,” Lauri said. “I’d had CPR in the past, but I began to realize that many people have never had a CPR class.”
Her why? “Everyone realized that Betty being present was the first factor in my survival and that made me see how CPR is a life-or-death issue. I haven’t had any damage to my heart, and I’m running again. I wanted to make sure that we had made our best effort to make sure our families, teachers, and students were safe!”
Everyone has a reason to live a longer and healthier life.