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As the nation stood by helplessly witnessing the collapse of Buffalo Bills' Damar Hamlin, one Indianapolis woman knew the feeling of urgency. Brittany Fields, a nursing professional development educator at IU Health West Hospital is grateful that she received on-the-job training in CPR. She never dreamed she'd need to use it to save the life of her 35-year-old husband.
By IU Health Senior Journalist, TJ Banes, firstname.lastname@example.org
It was in fourth grade when Brittany Fields moved from Danville to Avon, Ind. that she first met Jake Fields. They were students at South Elementary with little idea of how their lives would grow in the years to follow.
They ended up sitting next to each other in their senior English class and began dating after graduation. They both attended IU Bloomington and less than a month after their graduation, they were married in Boone County in the small community of Fayette, Ind.
It was a beautiful outdoor ceremony on June 13, 2009. Jake remembers all the vibrant colors of the wedding party - blues, pinks, and greens. And of course, marrying the woman he had known since elementary school.
“Since the beginning I’ve always liked her sense of humor and she always got my sense of humor,” he said.
Their years of marriage have been captured in a series of snap shots - playing backgammon, cruising the Caribbean, cheering for favorite sports team - Notre Dame and IU - mourning the loss of Jake’s 55-year-old father to cancer, and navigating career changes.
Brittany graduated from IU with ambitions of pursuing a career in teaching.
“I always wanted to help people and thought that would be through teaching but after a year or two, it wasn’t what I wanted,” she said. She took a job as a unit secretary at IU Health West in the labor and delivery unit and the course of her life changed.
She didn’t know it then, but that pivot would one day save her husband’s life.
Through IU Health’s tuition reimbursement program, Brittany returned to school and obtained her nursing degree in on the accelerated program track. She is now working on her master’s degree in nursing education and serves as Nursing Professional Development Educator for Maternity Services at IU Health West.
Another snapshot of their marriage depicts eight years of infertility. In August of 2020 she became pregnant and the Fields’ son, Evan, was born six weeks early on March 30, 2021. He remained in the NICU at IU Health West for six days.
Through her role as an educator, Brittany, 36, has worked with vulnerable infants, and practicing the skills for neonatal resuscitation
“I don’t think we’ve had a maternal code at IU Health West but we do monthly refreshers on RQI (Resuscitation Quality Improvement),” she said. The training supports CPR skills that help develop confidence and competency to respond to life-saving patient care.
But it was not in the hospital where Brittany provided that life-saving care at around 4:30 p.m. on Oct. 1, 2022. It was in her Pittsboro, Ind. home. Her husband became her patient.
Jake was on the couch holding their son, who was suffering a case of Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV). Brittany was looking at her schedule to see about juggling time to care for her little guy. Jake works in aerospace manufacturing.
“I could hear Jake and it sounded like bad snoring so I went over to see what was wrong. I took our son and put him on the couch and started yelling at Jake. He was making gasping noises and I knew something was wrong,” said Brittany. Her husband is 6’4” and weighs 280 pounds and she knew she would have difficulty moving him on her own. She called 911, ran to the neighbor’s house for help and came back to the house.
“I was gone about 20 seconds and I came back and he was turning blue. I started moving furniture and getting him in a position for CPR. By the time my neighbor got there, I was getting tired so I continued doing ventilation and coached him through compressions,” said Brittany.
Jake was in cardiac arrest for 45 minutes, and was transported by ambulance to IU Health West. Tests showed that he had cardiomyopathy, a group of diseases that affect the heat muscle. He may have been born with the condition but it never caused problems until he was 35 years old. He was also diagnosed with a delay or blockage in the left side of his heart.
He was on a ventilator for 36 hours, underwent a cardiac catheterization, and MRI. His heart was healthy structurally so he was sent home with a life vest and returned the following week for implantation of an internal cardiac defibrillator.
After five weeks of recovery he was back to work and continues to recover from sore ribs, but he says he is grateful to be alive.
Always in great health - a high school basketball and tennis player - Jake said the life-threatening scare came out of nowhere.
“I went to our family doctor for regular checkups and blood work every six months. Other than asthma, I’ve had normal health and I didn’t feel any symptoms of heart problems,” said Jake, who blacked out and remembers only waking up in the hospital a few days later.
Now going into the New Year, he said he is focused on embracing everyone, everything and every day. He continues follow up visits every six months with Dr. Michael Byers, who specializes in heart and vascular care.
But otherwise, he says he feels fine.
“I recommend marrying a nurse,” he said jokingly. Then he added, “She saved my life and gave me a chance to be a husband and father.”