Eileen's Story

How a quick response saved Eileen Horning’s life

Eileen Horning and the team

Monday, Jan. 14, 2019, started unremarkably for Eileen Horning. The electrical-sector sales administrator for Eaton Corp. spent the morning at the international power-management company’s Beachwood offices. After lunch, she re¬turned to her office at Eaton’s satellite plant in Parma and sat down at her desk.

“I saw this static, like a TV going out,” the Avon resident, now 59, recalls. “I said to myself, ‘Oh, my God!’ I pushed myself back away from my desk. I think I remember turning to put my head down to get more oxygen to my head. And that was it.”

Becky Rudzik found Horning lying on the floor of her office. She called out for help, for someone to dial 911, and Eileen’s co-workers began running out of their offices to see what had happened. When they saw her unconscious, lips and face already beginning to turn blue from lack of oxygen, they sprang into action.

Sales engineer John Ross began cardio-pulmonary resuscitation. Seconds later, power systems engineer Steven Walker took over the mouth-to-mouth breathing while Ross continued performing chest compressions. While Ross and Walker worked on Eileen, sales engineer James Gill fetched one of the plant’s two automatic external defibrillators (AED), portable computerized devices that assess the heart’s rhythm and, if necessary, deliver an electric shock to restore it to normalcy.

“They hooked me up, and they shocked me,” Horning says. “That’s what brought me back.”

She regained consciousness right before paramedics arrived. She figured she’d simply passed out. The assumption persisted, even as she drifted in and out of consciousness — she doesn’t remember paramedics administering a second AED shock during the ambulance ride to University Hospitals Parma Medical Center. After she arrived at the hospital she learned she’d gone into cardiac arrest.

Although the terms “cardiac arrest” and “heart attack” often are used interchangeably, they are not synonyms, according to information provided on the American Heart Association website heart.org. A heart attack “occurs when a blocked artery prevents oxygen-rich blood from reaching a section of the heart,” while a cardiac arrest “is triggered by an electrical malfunction in the heart that causes an irregular heartbeat” and disrupts its pumping action. While symptoms of a heart attack may be immediate, they more often develop slowly and persist for hours, days, even weeks before the actual attack. A cardiac arrest, in contrast, is a sudden event, the onset of which comes with no warning. Victims can die within minutes if they do not receive treatment.

“Ninety-five percent of people that cardiac arrest outside of a hospital don’t make it,” Horning says, reciting a figure mentioned by one of her doctors.

Horning left the hospital five days later with an implantable cardioverter defibrillator, a battery-powered device placed in the chest and connected to the heart by thin wires. It monitors the heart rate and, like an AED, delivers an electric shock to restore normal rhythm if it detects the heart is beating chaotically or much too fast. She refers to it as “my security blanket.”

Eileen returned to work in March. She arranged for 18 Parma-plant workers whose CPR certifications had expired — including herself — to take a recertification course, obtained CPR-certification training for the nine employees in Eaton’s Grand Rapids, Michigan, office, and got an AED for them. She realizes how lucky she was to be with people who knew exactly what to do when they found her on the floor — and weren’t afraid to do it.

“My guardian angels were right there,” she says.

Article featured in Cleveland Magazine February 2020 issue
Photo caption: From left: Taylor Berry, John Ross, Eileen Horning, Becky Rudzik, Steven Walker
Photo credit: Jason Miller, Pixelate Photography