For Harrison resident Janice Gangloff, the best gift is to be alive, and she got it in March.
On the evening of March 7, Gangloff, 65, was getting ready for bed at home when she suffered a sudden cardiac arrest and collapsed onto her bathroom floor.
“I’ve always been one to take care of myself. I went to the gym and watched what I ate. I had no family history,” she said. “It was quite a surprise. I never had any symptoms.”
A cardiac arrest is not the same as a heart attack. In a cardiac arrest, a person’s heart stops pumping blood; a heart attack happens when a coronary artery becomes blocked, robbing the heart muscle of blood and oxygen.
After more than a half hour of manual and mechanical CPR, medications and being shocked with a defibrillator more than nine times, Gangloff arrived at Allegheny Valley Hospital, where her circulation spontaneously returned. She was taken to UPMC Presbyterian Hospital in Pittsburgh, which she was discharged from on March 19.
Today, Gangloff,a mother of two and grandmother of five, said she feels wonderful and is back to her normal routines. “You’d never know that I had anything happen to me,” she said.
Her survival defies the odds. Of the 350,000 cardiac arrests that happen outside hospitals each year, 90 percent are fatal, said Chris Hendershot, the pre-hospital care coordinator for Allegheny Valley Hospital and Allegheny Health Network.
“With statistics like these, it seems nearly impossible to have a positive outcome,” he said.
At the Harrison commissioners meeting on Monday, Hendershot honored the paramedics and emergency medical technicians who helped save Gangloff’s life. Gangloff and her family were there.
The 11 recognized were Citizens Ambulance Service employees Cory Balog and Brian Gouza, both EMTs, and paramedic Frank Smoyer; from Citizens Volunteer Hose Co., Chief Sean Jones, assistant Chief Todd Allen, Capt. Tanner Murray, 1st Lt. T.J. Bajack, accountability officer Justin Westmoreland, and firefighter Christine Conroy; and AK Pulser paramedics Randi Shank and Donna Wick.
Allen, Gouza and Wick were not present at the meeting.
“To hear of an outcome like this and to have Mrs. Gangloff and her family with us is incredible,” Hendershot said. “Not only did early recognition, bystander CPR and fast 911 notifications play a factor in this extraordinary outcome, but the efforts performed by your hometown EMS providers ultimately saved a life.”
Hendershot gave each of those present a challenge coin.
“Although it is only a small token of appreciation, I hope you all hold this coin and reflect on the positive impact you made with your training, experience, dedication and compassion,” Hendershot said. “You all represent the best of Citizen Hose Ambulance Service and the profession of emergency medical services as a whole.”
A native of New Kensington who has lived in Harrison most of her life, Gangloff said she had no contact with the members of Citizens Hose before that night.
“They should be credited more than the credit they sometimes get,” she said. “I see that now after what they did for me.”
Gangloff said she has no memories of that night. But from what she learned, she specifically praised Jones’ actions.
“He started working on me over and over. He would not give up on me,” she said. “What he did, it was just remarkable from what I hear. He was determined to bring me back and he did that.”
A paramedic since 2002, Jones said he’s been on a thousand cardiac arrest calls. Of those, he said less than 10 percent, or maybe less than 5 percent, survived — some for only a couple of days afterward.
“She’s one of the only ones I can recall in all my years who had a complete turnaround,” he said.
Jones said the challenge coin he received is something he can look at and remember that night.
“I’m going to stay in touch with her and make sure she’s chugging along OK,” he said.
Gangloff also praised the unknown 911 operator who talked her husband, Bob, through performing CPR on her until help arrived. “He was so calm and so professional to talk him through it,” she said.
Brian Rittmeyer is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Brian at 724-226-4701, [email protected] or via Twitter @BCRittmeyer.