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A Love that Saves


It happened without warning when Larry Pitts went into cardiac arrest last July. An Army veteran who had  kept active and in decent shape, Pitts, 63, had finished a little yard work with his wife Marilyn when he  collapsed. Luckily, Marilyn, a trained nurse, saved his life with her quick thinking and more than seven minutes of CPR. CPR, or cardiopulmonary resuscitation, is an emergency lifesaving procedure performed when the heart stops beating. It involves chest compressions and giving breaths during a cardiac event.
“I was just sitting there in the garage cooling off after mowing the front yard,” Larry said. Marilyn, who had been tending to their rose bushes, brought him a Gatorade and they talked a bit. “The next thing I know is my eyes open and I’m in a hospital,” he said. “For me, I had just put the lawn mower away, but here I was with a scar on my chest and bandages.” For Marilyn, also 63, it had been a completely different story.
“He got up from his chair to give me a hug and kiss, took two sips and went straight back,” she said. When he fell backward, his eyes were open, and he was stiff as a board. “It happened so fast I couldn’t catch him,” she said, “He turned a dark bluish gray almost immediately and I knew he was not getting any air. There was no pulse, so I started CPR right away.”

Her decades of medical training kicked in and she went to work. “I’ve done CPR so many times that I didn’t hesitate to do it. It was instinct,” she said. It was a weekday in the summer, so, despite her screaming for
help, no one heard her. “I thought a neighbor would hear me, but there was no one,” Marilyn said. “I did a cycle or two and went to grab my phone. I was trained you get help when you can, so I just kept going,
screaming the whole time to try to find help.” She said he tried breathing a few times on his own, but he was
not consistent. “He was not coming out of it,” Marilyn said. “I didn’t know if it was his heart or a stroke, I just knew he wasn’t breathing and didn’t have a pulse so kept doing CPR.” When the paramedics arrived, she had spent seven and a half minutes rotating chest compressions and giving breaths despite the heat and her asthma. “It was the scariest thing I’ve ever had to do with my husband,” she said. The couple had known each other since they were in high school and living in the small town of Bradley, Ill., south of Chicago in the mid-1970s. After they graduated in 1978, he ended up joining the Army and seeing the world while she went to work in healthcare. And as luck would have it, the pair had a second chance for love at their 35-year high school reunion. When Larry woke up a week after his coronary event, the first face he saw was Marilyn’s.
“As I was coming out of it, I saw my wife and was just really confused to be in the hospital,” he said.
When he found out that he had gone into cardiac arrest so suddenly, he was surprised. “I had never had problems,” he said. “I didn’t have chest pain or shortness of breath. There was no warning.” She told him that he had a triple bypass and had been in the hospital for a week.
“He had a 95-percent blockage in his right coronary artery and had to have surgery,” she said. “He was sedated so he couldn’t move, and his heart could heal. His heart function improved from 20 to 50 to 60 percent just from the rest.”

He was stunned, but the next day, he was well enough to be sitting in a chair talking. She said the staff at Cape Fear Valley Heart & Vascular Center gave her complete confidence that would be the outcome.
“The whole team, every single person, from the liaison in the emergency department to the chaplain to the staff in the ICU, were stellar,” she said. “Everyone knew exactly what they were doing. They never made me feel like there was no hope.” But it was Marilyn who had kept him alive until they could take over.
“She saved my life,” he said. “I’m reset and back to normal because of my wife. If she hadn’t done what she did, I could have lost functionality.”

After six months and adhering to strict physical therapy exercises at home, Larry has fully recovered.
Now, the grateful couple enjoys taking walks through downtown Hope Mills and staying active together.
Marilyn hopes that others read their story and feel encouraged that they can help others if the situation ever arises.

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