Tanya Mathys' Why

If ever there was a wife prepared for her husband’s cardiac arrest, it was Tanya Mathys of Logan, Utah. She was 39 years old, but she has known CPR since, well, "I am not exactly sure when I first learned CPR, I feel like I have always known it." Her mom was an emergency room nurse and her father was one of the first volunteer EMTs in Utah. "First aid has always been a part of my life."

As if that weren’t enough, she married a firefighter and paramedic when she was 24. Ken and Tanya met at a ski resort where he served on the National Ski Patrol with her father. "Tanya and I have been doing first aid and CPR together for 24 years now," Ken said.

They never thought one of them would be doing it on the other, but that happened on September 9, 2006. It was a shiny Saturday morning and they were just leaving their son Chantz’s soccer game. It was in a farming community in a rural area near their home on the outskirts of Logan.

Tanya was backing out when Ken slumped over in the passenger seat. She didn’t have to think about what to do — after all, she is a health educator and has been teaching CPR through the American Heart Association for 15 years. She threw the van into park, ran to Ken’s door and pulled him to the pavement. He had no pulse and was turning blue. In an instant, she opened his airway and inserted an airway device from the first aid bag in the back of the van. Then she started CPR. One of the other parents at the game called 911.

For 14 minutes Tanya kept rhythmically pumping Ken’s chest, though after eight minutes she turned the breathing over to another adult. "The reason that I had to perform CPR for so long was that we were in a rural area, miles from any sort of hospital or help," Tanya said. "The people that responded were volunteers, who had to stop whatever they were doing and get to their station for their equipment and then to our location."

Ken would be the last person you would think a cardiac arrest risk. "Two days before, I had run the university’s football stadium steps with a 50-lb air tank on with no pain, signs or symptoms," Ken said.

But there had been signs: He’d had two episodes of chest pain, shortness of breath and heavy sweating. After the first episode in May 2006, he had had a treadmill test and complete heart work-up including blood tests for cardiac enzymes, and nothing was found. The same symptoms happened on July 3rd. Paramedics monitored his heart. It showed nothing unusual. "The only thing that would have caught the blockage in his left anterior descending artery would have been an angiogram," Tanya said. "But when a healthy 41-year-old adult passes all the testing and treadmill you don’t usually do an angiogram." The next time he had symptoms was September 9th.

Tanya and Ken Mathys with their kids (clockwise from left) Kirsten (15), Colton (15), Chantz (18), Parker (15) and Dillan (23)

The ambulance took Ken to a small hospital nearby where he was stabilized, then airlifted to a larger trauma center. There an angiogram located the blockage, and he was put into a coma to let his heart heal a little bit before undergoing a single-vessel bypass. When Ken woke up ten days later he had no memory of what had happened. He thought he had been in a fire. "To this day, he remembers the night before this happened, which was our 14th anniversary, but does not remember anything before waking up in the hospital ten days later," Tanya said.

"Statistically speaking, Ken should not be here, let alone continue being a fire fighter and paramedic," Tanya said. "Fourteen minutes is a long time to perform CPR. But it proves the point that if good CPR is started immediately after sudden cardiac arrest, enough oxygen can be delivered to the brain and heart to sustain the patient until advanced help arrives. Teaching everyone to know CPR will save lives!"

Tanya admits that if Ken gets heartburn or has a funny look on his face, she panics a little bit, however the Mathyses have also learned through this that you cannot live life wondering what might happen or worrying that something bad will happen. "We do all we can to be healthy, we know first aid and CPR and we have taught our kids these as well," Tanya said. "We approach life with a living attitude and enjoy every aspect of it. We spend a lot of time being active with our five kids. We all ski together, play soccer together, camp and hike. Sometimes we need to stop and remember when life gets crazy, that it could be so very different right now. We really try to appreciate all the things we have to be thankful for, especially each other! Our family is our why."

Watch a video of Tanya and Ken sharing their story in their own words


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