Few can appreciate the phrase “in the right place, at the right time” better than Melissa Hansen.
If her heart had stopped beating on any day of the week other than a Wednesday, this story would be about her sudden death.
Thankfully, the 37-year-old mother of three happened to be at work that day. The outpatient nurse at Providence Medical Center, who only works on Wednesdays, was having lunch with two of her co-workers in a small break room.
It was the Wednesday before Christmas, and Hansen and her friends were talking about what presents they had bought their children when Hansen’s heart suddenly, and quietly, stopped beating.
“It was a busy clinic day and we were sitting there enjoying lunch,” said Lyndi McElroy, a nurse and close friend of Hansen’s who was sitting across the table from her. “We were talking and (Hansen) grabbed her head and just stared straight ahead.”
When Hansen didn’t answer McElroy’s question, McElroy noticed that she had stopped breathing and was starting to turn a bluish color. Before long, a code blue was announced and the small break room was suddenly filled with co-workers who couldn’t believe what they were seeing.
“I remember muffled voices and a lot of activity, but I was also at peace,” Hansen said when asked what she could recall of that day. “I remember hearing Todd (Luedeke’s) voice saying ‘I need you to keep breathing’ and he was trying to coach me through it, and the next thing I remember was about a half-hour before they put me in an ambulance to transfer me to Lincoln, which was hours later.”
Hansen was taken to the Nebraska Heart Institute and had a defibrillator installed in her heart, but the fact that she’s alive more than three months later is nothing short of a testament to God’s work in our lives.
Hansen only works one day a week at the Wayne hospital. The rest of her days are spent at home caring for her family. Her two sons, Eli and Isaiah, are usually at school while husband Tony farms northwest of Wayne. That leaves her home alone with her 4-year-old daughter, Brielle.
“At the time, she was still 3 and doesn’t know how to use my phone,” Hansen said. “Usually I’m home with her and she never would have been able to get me the help I needed if this had happened at home. I truly feel like this was something that was orchestrated by God because, otherwise, I wouldn’t be here.”
The last year had been a hard one for Hansen. She had lost her mother to colon cancer earlier in the year and experienced two miscarriages, so that stress of Broken Heart Syndrome, combined with the cardiomyopathy she may have developed during one of her pregnancies, could have triggered the sudden halt to her heartbeat.
“I’d had a really rough year,” she said. “This had happened three days after my mom’s birthday and the anniversary of one of my miscarriages, and I probably had some kind of cardiomyopathy that was triggered by the stress of everything.”
Thankfully, she happened to be at work that day with some friends who know a thing or two about saving a life.
McElroy and Michaela Hank both have previous experience as ER nurses, so when they and fellow nurses Gina Buhrman, Sue Hansen and Terri Davis jumped in to help out, it didn’t take long for CPR and a shock to be administered to get Hansen’s heart beating again.
As it turns out, doctors Ben Martin and Melissa Dobbins had just walked in the door from lunch when the code was announced, and they rushed to the outpatient area to offer assistance.
“It was crazy and unexpected,” Dr. Martin said. “When I first heard it was Melissa Hansen I thought they had the wrong name because she’s too young for something like this to happen. The girls who got her shocked had done a lot of the work already, so by then it was a matter of trying to calm things down and figure out the next step.”
“We were lucky that it happened when it happened as we were coming back from lunch,” Dr. Dobbins added.
Gary West, a physician’s assistant at PMC, also had just walked in the door from lunch when he heard the code announced.
“I’d just walked in the back door when I heard it was in the outpatient department,” he said. “Everything we do is part of a team effort, and I just tried to jump in and help out, but you don’t think about who it was until afterwards.”
Her co-workers worked quickly and had her heart beating again within a couple of minutes, but it was a very emotional experience for all involved.
“It was only a minute, but if felt like a lifetime had passed,” McElroy said with tears in her eyes.
“I remember thinking this is not happening, but it was happening and all I could think about was how her kids needed their mom,” added Teri Davis.
“When they said it was a code blue in the break room, I was wondering who would have a code blue in the break room and then I saw that it was her,” added Ludeke. “When it’s one of your own, you do get quite emotional about it.”
Hansen said she felt her mother had a conversation with God that made it all possible.
“My mom is my guardian angel,” she said with a smile. “All I can imagine is that my mom was up there tapping God on the shoulder and saying, ‘You know, if this is something you’re going to have happen to her, can you have it happen on a Wednesday when she’s at work with all her seasoned nurse friends around, and maybe do it at lunch with Michaela and Lyndi, who have been ER nurses for a lot of years. And maybe, when the doctors are just coming back from lunch break because they’re usually not in this part of the hospital and have them walk in when the code is announced.’”
Dr. Martin’s brother is a cardiologist in Lincoln, and he got Hansen transferred to the Nebraska Heart Institute to have a defibrillator installed in her heart. His only medical explanation for what happened was that the heart didn’t reset after a beat.
“Sometimes, that resetting phase gets too long and it can make the heart electrically unstable,” he said. “It could come a number of different ways, but it was certainly surprising and unanticipated.”
It certainly was – and it’s something that Hansen is so grateful that it happened when AND where it did.
“It totally freaks me out to think about what could have happened if it hadn’t been orchestrated by God so perfectly,” she said with tears in her eyes. “If my friends weren’t all there that day, I wouldn’t be here.”