In January 1998, Richard Worthington had just turned 30 and was three months into a new job. Richard was finding this particular the day a little stressful. He had stayed home with flu-like symptoms the day before and still wasn’t feeling well. His wife, Jill, a registered nurse, was sick at home. Early in the afternoon, he called her to see how she was doing.
Richard’s last memory was that of standing behind his desk talking with Jill on the phone.
A co-worker was walking by Richard’s office and saw him collapse onto his desk. He raised the alarm. Other co-workers immediately went to work administering CPR, compressing his chest, and giving mouth-to-mouth.
As luck would have it, the office was located adjacent to an ambulance dispatch centre. Paramedics arrived very quickly and immediately assessed that Richard was in a full cardiac arrest. A portable defibrillator (AED) was used to administer an electric shock to the heart in an effort to restore normal rhythm. The shock worked and Richard was rushed to hospital unconscious but alive.
Physical recovery took several months, and in some respects, three years later, Richard is still recovering emotionally. Initially there was some short-term memory loss, but today he feels fully restored to the level of both physical and mental activity he knew before this event.
Richard had a strong faith before this event and feels it was that faith that helped him recover from the arrest. "I came to realize it wasn’t just me going through the recovery" he says.
The experience changed his life. "Before I had days where I was going through the motions, not really thinking about my day," he reflects. "Now, I find something of value in every day."
Today Richard has an internal defibrillator (ICD) about the size of a pack of cigarettes implanted under his skin near his shoulder blade. The defibrillator monitors the electrical activity of his heart. If Richard experiences an arrhythmia (an irregular heart beat) the defibrillator tries to restore the heart's regular rhythm by either pacing the heart or giving it an electric shock. Initially Worthington was self-conscious of the device but now he says, "I only notice it sometimes when I am in bed and roll over onto my left side."
What caused the heart of an otherwise healthy 30-year old to suddenly stop? There is still no diagnosis. It is possible that he will never have a definitive explanation.
Last year, Richard read an article in the newspaper about Susan Busse, a young woman in her twenties, who died suddenly with no medical explanation while on a family vacation near Shuswap Lake, B.C. He contacted Nancy Busse, Susan’s mother, and he now works with Nancy on the Board of Directors of the Alberta Chapter of The Canadian Sudden Arrhythmia Death Syndromes (SADS) Foundation.
When asked why he feels the need to be active with The Canadian SADS Foundation Richard responds, "I have come to realize that I am alive today for a reason. There is a purpose to my life." He welcomes the opportunity to speak with others who have similar experiences and is campaigning for defibrillators in public places.
Richard values the time shared with his wife and two children. He knows that his life today is the result of a combination of fortunate circumstance. Through his efforts with The Canadian SADS Foundation, Worthington is working to increase the odds that the next person who suffers a cardiac arrest will have a better chance of surviving and returning to a full and active life.
Submitted Spring 2001 by:
Stoney Plain, Alberta