Working Too Hard Can Give You a Heart Attack

    by CLC Staff

    April 2, 2009 was a day that Representative Becky Carney and the handful of her colleagues still currently serving in the state legislature will never forget.

    On that Thursday spring afternoon, as most of the other lawmakers were already packed up and heading out of Raleigh, the highly-revered Charlotte legislator — who was then serving just her fourth term in the House — was still in her office working when she suffered a sudden cardiac arrest. “She started breathing and not talking and I said, ‘Are you alright?,’ and she did not respond to me at all,” remembered her colleague Representative Verla Insko (now retired) with whom she was speaking on the telephone.

    Representative Carney was quickly attended to by two General Assembly police officers and another of her colleagues, Representative Bobby England (also now retired), a medical doctor from Rutherford County. Dr. England reported that when he arrived on the scene, Representative Carney was in full cardiac arrest: she was completely unconscious and had no pulse. The three started CPR and used an in-house automatic external defibrillator (AED), saving her life. Fortunately, the AED had been installed in the Legislative Building just a few years before — gifted to the General Assembly by none other than Representative Carney’s own freshman class.

    Cardiac arrests are a leading cause of death in the United States, and defibrillators provide electric current to stop heart arrhythmia, an abnormal beating of the heart. According to the Yale School of Medicine, cardiac arrests affect between 300,000 and 400,00 people of all ages every year, including young adults. In fact, cardiac arrests are the leading cause of death in young athletes.

    A few recent examples of young athletes from North Carolina include Gates County tenth-grade football player Jaylen Beamon, who suffered a cardiac arrest in March of last year; 17-year-old cheerleader Keianna Joe, a high school senior from Harnett County, who had a heart attack as she was warming up at a competition that same month; and 15-year-old Kassidy Sechler of Rowan County, who went into cardiac arrest at a travel softball tournament in July of 2021.

    Last week, the House Committee on Health unanimously approved House Bill 852, “The Representative Becky Carney Cardiac Arrest Act.” The bipartisan legislation was sponsored by Representatives Cynthia Ball, Timothy Reeder (an emergency room physician), Donny Lambeth, and Jeff Zenger and it was co-sponsored by more than 50 of their House colleagues. The bill requires that the State Board of Education (SBE) adopt rules for the implementation, use, maintenance, and training in the use of AEDs and the installation of AEDs in accordance with the SBE rules in all schools, including charter schools, regional schools, and schools under the authority of UNC’s Board of Governors. The legislation, which was approved unanimously by the Rules Committee this afternoon, now goes to the full House for a vote.

    “This bill will ensure that all North Carolina public schools have an AED accessible in their main buildings and, importantly, also their athletic facilities,” said Representative Ball when she introduced her bill before the committee.

    “The data is overwhelming,” commented Representative Reeder during the hearing. “What saves lives is defibrillation and the AEDs. While CPR (pushing on the chest) is important, the only thing that’s shown to save lives is rapid access to an AED. And time is of essence, so having them in schools and at athletic facilities is incredibly important.”

    The legislation also appropriates $9.2 million for the 2024 fiscal year from the extant American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) Temporary Savings Fund. The money will be allocated by the Superintendent of Public Instruction to governing bodies and public school units on a first-come first-served basis.

    Be sure to watch the above video of the June 20 Health Committee hearing. In these otherwise divided and partisan times, it’s a refreshing testament to the power of friendship, civility, and mutual respect. And it might even put a smile on your face.

    Legislative Update

    House Bill 852 was approved unanimously by the full House today. During the floor debate this afternoon, Representative Carney recalled the remarkable events that occurred on that April afternoon in 2009:

    “If you’ll bear with me, it is an amazing story that I’m honored to still be alive and grateful to my God that I’m still here and to incredible healthcare and responders and an AED machine.

    “I stayed after that Thursday to attend an Insurance Committee meeting. I wasn’t on Insurance, but there was an issue with our state employees. We heard from the people in the committee meeting that morning, from the providers. And that afternoon, we were going to hear from state employees. And I thought, I want to stay and hear what they have to say. A colleague of mine who was a doctor stayed also. He was not on the Insurance Committee. He lived in the mountains, Western North Carolina. So I went in the committee room. They started the public hearing. And I looked across, and I went, ‘Why is Dr. England still here?’ But good for him and good for me. We were listening.

    “But I left there to go to my office. It was 4 o’clock, April the 2nd. And I told my L.A. (legislative assistant), come in — [there are] a couple of things I want to give to you before I go home. I want to beat the traffic at the Triangle.

    “And so she was sitting there, and we were talking, and I sneezed. And she sneezed, and I said, ‘God bless you.’ And then she went on. The sneeze happened three times. This third time, I didn’t say, ‘God bless you.’ And she popped her head up to look. My head was on the desk, I am told.

    “So the next little bit — I’ll share with you what I have been told, that I do not know, don’t remember, except before and after. But I do remember before the third sneeze I was on the phone to another colleague Representative Insko. And we were chatting and I know that my L.A. sneezed but I was listening to her. And again, the next thing I was told, my colleague on the phone heard me say, ‘What is happening?’ I don’t remember saying that. But apparently that was at the moment I’ve been told medically, that was when my heart was racing off the chart to the point that it stopped. I am so grateful to the fact that we had at my desk, at all of your desks, we have a panic button. My L.A. had the foresight to reach under my desk, push the button, and go outside and scream into the courtyard, I am told, I need help.

    “There was a lobbyist who was at that insurance committee meeting, and he responded, he was right there. He came in and started, picked me up, laid me out on my desk, and started the CPR. And then the Capitol Police arrived, and behind them was Dr. England, Representative England. A second, that they were there, was a blessing. And then the third was our Capitol Police that responded, the two to that call, they had just received CPR training the week before. They had not had the training on the force. That was another miracle step.

    “It just is such a story that could affect anyone in this building. Anyone. It could happen within a flash. So the next thing I know, I wake up in the hospital. And five of our six children were here around my bed, came from other states and here. And I woke up and they were all over me saying, ‘Mom, do you know what day it is? Do you know who the president is? Do you know where you are?’ And I went, ‘What is going on?’ But I knew later what they were trying to do. They wanted to make sure that I still had not lost some of my cognizance and memory and whatever.

    “And then when I was told what had happened, and then the TV was on, and the 5 o’clock or the 11 o’clock news was on. And I remember looking at it and hearing my name and seeing a stretcher going through the 1200 courtyard and a foot hanging off. And my husband said, ‘There you go.’ And it’s a surreal feeling. But my story is incredible. And it goes on beyond that — why I wear a backpack — but we’ll save that for another bill.

    “I don’t know where to begin to express my gratitude for this bill being named. But from that incident, I know that here in Wake County and in other counties, they have put in AEDs in their government buildings. We have them in the L.O.B. (Legislative Office Building) now. They’re prevalent in a lot of private companies and businesses. And I had a granddaughter who was with her mother traveling over in France, and she sent me a letter. She sent me a text saying, “Rara, you won’t believe over here on the post on their main street, there’s a machine that saved your life.” And they had AEDs on there throughout the city there.

    “I can’t stress enough how important having the training that this bill does for our personnel within schools. I can’t tell you how important it is to have those AEDs present, but I can tell you it is important to save a life. I believe I was saved for many reasons unknown to me, but I know my story is to be told, it is to be shared, it is to say I’m not the the first, I’m not the only one, and I won’t be the last for this to happen to.

    “I ask you to please think about these students and their families, that we start here, we start with this. We did — this body — after that incident, to pass a bill that required CPR training for high school graduation, we did it. So I ask you for a positive thing to do for our public schools, and that is to have these AEDs in these facilities. I thank you again for this honor, and thank you for listening.”