The chaos of April 27, 1999, always will remain with Cindy Matheny because that evening forever changed her life. Having returned home from playing volleyball with friends near Akron, Ohio, she felt exhausted and rested. Then she suddenly experienced cardiac arrest.
‘My husband then ‘shocked’ me several times,’ said 44-year-old Matheny in a telephone interview, referring to her husband, a firefighter and paramedic, who literally saved her life by using a defibrillator he had on hand.
Though her husband saved her, Matheny for a while experienced oxygen deprivation to the brain and then went into a coma lasting about 45 days. Said Matheny, ‘The doctor told me there was less than one percent chance for me to live a normal life, meaning I wouldn’t be able to talk or walk.’
Today, she talks and walks, and even drives a car. She beat unbelievable odds, and attributed that to friends praying for her. Yet she still struggles with a plethora of adjustment issues, not the least of which is being a single mother of five children. Her husband, who saved her life, divorced her two years ago. She believed he became frustrated with her memory problems and inability to fully recover.
‘I’m still recovering right now,’ she said. ‘If I read a story, for instance, I have to re-read it because I can’t remember what I just read. So I get really upset and say I am not going to read anymore. Also, I have problems focusing and finding the next word to say in a conversation. I’m forgetful and get upset with myself.’
Though having a college degree in business management, she will never be able to work, even part-time. She speaks haltingly, often stopping mid-sentence. She sometimes falls when walking. Her children are 19, 16, 14, 11, and 8, the last child born two months before the cardiac arrest.
Yet she is thankful for an older sister who pays her bills and has power of attorney, and her oldest daughter, who when age 10 had to shoulder a lot of responsibility helping raise her younger siblings. Today, Matheny and four of her children live with her brother’s family.
To others facing a similar situation, she advised, ‘just keep plugging away and don’t give up.’ For peer support, she regularly frequents a ‘club house’ in Akron for people recovering from traumatic brain injury.