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E-mail may have saved woman's life


May 15, 2001

The gods smiled.

The stars lined up.

She hit triple cherries.

Whatever you call it, Cindy Hochstetler lucked out last Thursday. Here's what happened:

Hochstetler had just finished planting flowers at First Baptist Church, where she works. She crawled into her old Crown Victoria and pointed the beast home, about five miles north of Bismarck. Somewhere along the way, the sky started turning incredibly black.

She would say it looked like a curtain coming down.

But the sky was dark only to Hochstetler. Her eyes had rolled back in her head because of a malfunction in her heart. And remember, the Crown Vic was cruising home at about 45 mph when this happened.

It was then that luck struck.

Before the dark curtain could completely be unfurled, Hochstetler remembered an e-mail she received earlier in the week. It was forwarded from a former Church of Christ minister in Bismarck. Normally, Hochstetler deletes those kind of forwarded messages without reading them. But this one had a subject line she couldn't ignore. It said:

READ THIS. IT COULD SAVE YOUR LIFE.

Before she completely blacked out, Hochstetler recalled the main points of the message. It was about self-administered CPR, how you can keep from passing out if you're having heart problems. She forced herself to take a deep breath and coughed violently, just what the e-mail said to do. It worked.

Hochstetler steered her car to the side of the road and called 911 from her cell phone. An ambulance came and took her to the emergency room, but she was fine.

"People are telling me it's amazing that I remembered that e-mail when I did, not to mention that I got it this week of all times," Hochstetler said. "Most of them call it a coincidence. I say it was God helping me out."

A faulty signal sent to Hochstetler's heart caused the near-blackout.

Most people have one electrical relay system that tells the heart when to beat. But Hochstetler has two, meaning sometimes a mixed signal gets sent to her heart. When that happens, the organ doesn't know how fast to pump. Hochstetler's ticker was beating faster than a Max Weinberg drumroll.

"It was beating way too fast, which can make you pass out," she said.

The only side effects were the blackout and a short-lived numbness in her hands. Had she not read the e-mail and followed its advice, however, it could have been tragic.

Most often, people don't die from the defect -- known as Super Ventricular Tachycardia -- Hochstetler's doctor said. But they can suffer injuries or die from the effects of the blackouts.

Surgeons will correct the problem in Hochstetler's heart Thursday.

She e-mailed the man who sent her the e-mail, Dwight Hernandez, on Friday to say she received it. There were 15 exclamation points after her closing words of "Thank you."

"I'm so completely lucky," Hochstetler said.

by TONY SPILDE, Copyright © 2001 Bismarck Tribune


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