Sudden Cardiac Death Changes a Family Forever
Thursdays are hard for Lisa Wilson and her family. It was a Thursday morning -- January 17, 2013 -- that she received a frantic phone call from her son Cory’s friend. The friend said Cory had just collapsed in his class at Georgia Southern University. They’d called an ambulance and somebody was starting CPR.
Lisa immediately got into her car and drove to Statesboro. On the way, she called Cory’s cell phone, hoping he would answer and tell her he was ok. Instead, a police officer answered. He said Cory was unresponsive and was being taken to Bulloch Memorial Hospital. When Lisa arrived in the emergency room, her husband Kenny was already there. Nurses were lined up around their son, taking turns performing CPR.
Wilson is a nurse herself. Instinctively, she got into line and took a turn doing CPR on her seemingly healthy, athletic, 21-year-old son. Nothing about the situation made sense. Why would his heart suddenly stop? He had no history of cardiac problems. He ate a healthy diet. He had even gone to an aerobic spinning class just two days before. As Lisa performed her second round of compressions, an emergency room doctor gently told her it was time to stop. It had been an hour and Cory was unresponsive. He died with his parents at his side.
“I was the first person to hold him when he was born, and the last person to hold him when he died. Losing him has been horrible, especially losing him to something so tragic,” said Lisa.
After an autopsy and toxicology tests, Cory’s cause of death was listed as fatal cardiac arrhythmia. He had never shown any symptoms of heart trouble. He’d even passed a physical just a few months earlier.
For Lisa, Kenny, and their 19-year-old daughter Morgan, life will never be the same. Doctors said Cory might have lived had an automated external defibrillator (AED) been available. The device could have shocked his heart back into a normal rhythm. After Cory’s death, the Wilsons donated an AED to the business building at Georgia Southern University. Lisa and Kenny have made it their mission to increase AED awareness and get the devices installed in as many places as possible.
In less than a year, the Wilson family has already made a tremendous impact. Recently, 58 AEDs were installed at Georgia Southern University. The next step is educating students and faculty about their location and use.
In August, friends and supporters organized the First Annual Cory Joseph Wilson Fireball 40 Memorial Baseball Tournament. Part of the proceeds were used to purchase AEDs for Chatham County baseball facilities and other public locations.
And every staff member at White Bluff Elementary, where Lisa works as a school nurse, has learned to perform hands-only CPR and use an AED. White Bluff is the only school in Chatham County with this distinction. There are also two AEDs in the school, one in the front office and one the gym.
The Wilson family still struggles every day to make sense of Cory’s death. They hope that by raising awareness of the importance of AEDs, they can save a life. Lisa is also asking the medical profession to help her spread the word.
“Cory was fascinated by medicine. He had a great respect for the medical field and was so proud that I am a nurse. It’s sad that the field he so admired is the very field that failed him. An AED wasn’t brought to the scene, and the first person to initiate CPR did so unassisted because, because people were not aware of what to do,” said Lisa.
She adds that Cory was incredibly sweet and always believed in helping others. He would be proud to know that his family, friends, and community are doing everything they can to ensure no more young lives are lost to sudden cardiac death.