Updated: Aug 2, 2020
Our lives changed forever the morning of February 5, 2011. My husband of 10 years, truly my best friend, my partner, my soulmate, the love of my life and the wonderful father to our 3 little boys went into cardiac arrest while in bed that Saturday morning. I woke up to hear him gasping. I thought in that moment, ‘Is this actually happening? How is this happening?’ My husband was only 41 years old, very healthy, fit, worked out every day and had just had a full physical a month prior – including an ECG and stress test on his heart which he passed with flying colors.
I was recovering from the back surgery I had 3 month prior but knew I had to somehow get him onto the floor to do CPR, which I didn’t know how to perform. As I watched my husband turn blue to gray I cried to God to PLEASE not take my husband! I begged him not to leave me and the boys and told him how much we love him and need him. I was on the phone with 911 as they guided me through CPR. I remember my little boys coming into the room and telling them to go back to their rooms. I remember hearing them start to cry, asking, ‘what’s wrong with Daddy?
It felt like help was taking forever which I later found out was only 3 minutes. Performing CPR was exhausting and just when it felt like my body couldn’t effectively keep going, the paramedics were there and started working on him. At one point as they were working on him I remember saying out loud to the paramedics, ‘Oh God, he just left!’ In that moment I actually felt his spirit leave his body. The paramedics made me then leave the room. A friend’s brother who lived nearby who is in law enforcement rushed over to my home and escorted me to the hospital in his unmarked car with sirens on. I remember thinking, ‘was I going to walk in and have them tell me he didn’t make it?’ As they escorted me to his bed, he was alive but unconscious. I felt SO relieved he was still breathing and remember thinking this is good, his body just needs to recover.
The ER doctor was asking me all kinds of questions – ‘Does he use drugs, any health issues, what, if any, medications is he on?’ I told them no to all of the above and told him he just had a full physical that he passed with flying colors. They later came out and told me they did a tox screen and no drugs were found but his sugar levels were sky high. They thought he had a diabetic episode. I explained he wasn’t diabetic!
He was transferred to the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit and the head Cardiologists came to speak with me. He explained they were going to use what they call the Artic Sun that helps cardiac arrest patients with any further damage to the brain caused by a possible lack of oxygen. They were going to place him in a medically induced coma and put his body into a therapeutic state of hypothermia, then slowly warm his body back to normal temperature over the course of 3 days. The doctor told me, ‘Your husband is a very fit man and his heart is actually strong like that of a 25-year-old. It’s not normal for a healthy 41-year-old who doesn’t drink or smoke, who has what appears to be a strong heart and just had a physical with no findings, to suffer a cardiac arrest. We need to find what caused this.’ He asked if he suffered from any symptoms prior, asked about my husband’s lifestyle and what he does for a living. I answered all his questions… he eats healthy, works out every day, doesn’t smoke, only drinks an occasional beer, no medications just vitamins and omega 3’s for heart health.
I told him what he does for work, and that he worked nights. The doctor asked if he drank energy drinks. I said yes, but only one a day usually on his way out the door to work. The doctor immediately said that would explain the high sugar levels he came in with, that most of those drinks were high in sugar. They then tested him and he came back with high caffeine levels. The doctor explained that it only takes one energy drink to throw off the rhythm of your heart causing a heart arrhythmia. He explained they were seeing a lot more cases with people coming in suffering cardiac events caused by energy drinks, especially with people who were mixing them with alcohol. His exact words were, ‘people drinking these drinks are playing Russian Roulette with their lives.’ I was blown away and couldn’t believe just one drink could do this damage. My husband was brought out of his medically induced coma but he remained unconscious. I couldn’t shake the feeling I felt that morning in our bedroom of feeling his spirit leave his body. All I could do was pray that I was wrong and that his body just needed time to rest and heal, but his brain was seizing.
My husband remained in the hospital unconscious for 2 weeks. I didn’t allow my children to visit because I didn’t want them to be scared or more worried. When they asked if he was alright and when he was coming home, I didn’t want to lie. I told them I didn’t know but the doctors and nurses were taking care of him the best they can. I was told by a team of doctors that my husband had an anoxic brain injury caused by lack of oxygen to the brain and he had very long road of recovery ahead of him and he may not ever be the same if he wakes from his coma. My husband’s brain continued to seize and 10 days after he was admitted I was told he was actually brain dead and there was nothing further they could do.
They knew my husband was an organ donor and spoke to me about organ donation. My son’s birthday was in 2 days and I couldn’t do this on his birthday and have this always be the memory on his birthday. I also had to go home and explain to them that their daddy was never coming home and was going to go be with God. Besides watching my husband take his last breath, telling my little boys was the most painful experience I’ve ever been through. The following day my oldest son was turning 9 and I didn’t go to the hospital. Myself and my husband’s parents and brother took the kids to Chucky Cheese to celebrate my son’s birthday. We tried to pretend everything was ok and give him as normal of a birthday as possible, if that even makes sense.
February 19, 2011, the day after my oldest son’s 9th birthday, I took my boys to the hospital to see and say goodbye to their dad. The nurses tried to remove as many of the tubes as possible so it wasn’t so scary for my sons. All that kept running through my mind is, ‘How is this happening? How is he not coming home with us? How is this going to be the last time we hug him, kiss him, touch him? How will this be the last time I will see his beautiful blue eyes?’ None of it seemed real but it was all very real. My children spent their time with him, friends and family said their goodbyes, and then it was time.
My friends watched my children out in the waiting room because I didn’t want them to experience watching their father take his last breath. Myself, my husband’s parents, brother and his wife were in the room while the nurse removed my husband from life support. I sat there squeezing his hand and kissing him for 31 minutes as I watched all signs of life slowly leave this beautiful man’s body. This man who was my EVERYTHING! I went home in a state of shock. Mind blown and completely shattered. My heart felt like it was physically cracking open inside me. The doctor called me a few days later to give his condolences. He said our family really touched their hearts. During our conversation I expressed that I couldn’t believe these drinks were this dangerous and if they were, how were they still on the market? He said there are many more deaths that are attributed to these drinks but doctors are not required to report them to the FDA. The few deaths you do hear about are because they were actually reported or because of media attention.
I remained in shock and a daze for months, and then the anger set in. I just couldn’t accept that one stupid drink had the ability to kill my healthy husband. I started doing my own research and found just how bad these drinks truly are. I found that these drinks were already banned in many Northern European Countries. I learned that on top of the already high amounts of caffeine and sugar in these drinks, that Guarana breaks down into its own form of caffeine. I learned that Taurine also in these drinks has caused brain damage in lab rats. I learned that several Major League Baseball teams have banned their players from drinking energy drinks but these organizations were having a hard time enforcing this ban because it’s not an illegal substance. I’ve learned that the DOD (Department of Defense) is discouraging our military from drinking these drinks which are rampantly consumed by our troops.
There is a new study just released stating that energy drinks may be contributing to the symptoms of PTSD in post-deployed soldiers. Another study states mixing energy drinks with alcohol has the same affects as cocaine. And now the latest study just released this week being presented to the American Heart Association is that just one energy drink can do harm to your blood vessels. When I see new studies come out on the dangers of these drinks I share them on social media. I’ve had strangers respond to my posts telling me they have experienced kidney failure, holes through their stomach, heart arrhythmia’s and tooth erosion. One woman told me her husband while playing hockey suffered a cardiac arrest and fell into a coma an hour after drinking an energy drink. Luckily the ice was a factor in helping save his life by helping prevent brain damage.
I’ve had a Cardiac Intensive Care nurse respond that it’s a big problem and she’s seeing people at work die from these drinks. How are these drinks not banned or at the very least how come they are not required to have a warning label? How can children go into a store and legally purchase one? I really want people to understand that it truly only takes just one of these drinks to throw your heart rhythm off. People think it can’t or won’t happen to them, but it does. It can and it IS HAPPENING to many other people, you’re just not hearing about it. The facts of how dangerous these drinks can be is out there, people just have to google it. This February will be 7 years since he’s been gone, yet it still seems like yesterday. Our sons are teenagers now and life hasn’t gotten any easier. The pain manifests in different ways with each son. Holidays, birthdays, school events are still SO difficult. My soul feels empty and half of me is gone. If by sharing our story prevents just one person from taking another drink, I can at least feel my husband’s death wasn’t senseless.
My husband was supposed to be an organ donor and I thought at least his death would mean something. I did a lot of planning with the organ donation company to coordinate timing so my kids could say goodbye, but still keep his organs viable. I found out a few weeks later the nurse never contacted the proper people to harvest his organs when he expired. His heart, kidney and lungs were not eligible, but the rest of his organs were – including all his tissue and eyes. I was horrified when I found out and felt there was nothing good that came from his death. That is why I share my story – because if it helps just one person, his death wasn’t meaningless. My husband was supposed to be an organ donor and I thought at least his death would mean something. I did a lot of planning with the organ donation company to coordinate timing so my kids could say goodbye, but still keep his organs viable. I found out a few weeks later the nurse never contacted the proper people to harvest his organs when he expired. His heart, kidney and lungs were not eligible, but the rest of his organs were – including all his tissue and eyes. I was horrified when I found out and felt there was nothing good that came from his death. That is why I share my story – because if it helps just one person, his death wasn’t meaningless.
Most Engaging Stories of 2018, amongst the likes of the New York Times, CNN, Washington Post, and other large media companies.
After John's story was published, I recieved hundreds of messages from people all around the world saying they also had a similar experience or knew someone who had. Because of the overwhelming response, Love What Matters asked to publish a follow up story and the messages kept coming in. With every message I received the angrier I grew. I knew something had to be done to raise awareness. I felt it was important to have a place where people could share their own experiences and others could realise my husbands case was not an isolated event and other families werew also going through this completely avoidable pain.
I decided to start a Facebook Group called Energy Drink & Preworkout Awareness. The group quickly grew. Soon I was asked if my organization would speak at a local high school and community events. I had to inform them I didn't have an organization and it was just me with my Facebook Group. I was encouraged by several people to form an nonprofit organization to help raise awareness on a larger scale. After much contemplation and a knowing I had to do something more, The Awareness Project was born.
I am SO thankful for the awareness John's story has raised. I have to thank Love What Matters for having the foresight to know this would be a story that would resonate with people. Thank you #LoveWhatMatters.