by Paul Rignell
The morning of Friday, Jan. 11, appeared to start typically for the family of Greg and Jennifer Ashfeld.
Long before sunrise, Greg had been up and left their home in Monticello for his day job with United Parcel Service. Jennifer and their daughter, Camille, 13, were sharing a bathroom mirror, fixing their appearances for respective days of work and school.
Two sons and brothers, Tristan, 15, and Braydon, 11, were waiting on the females, with Tristan in his bedroom and Braydon on a hallway staircase.
The mother and children’s long-time, weekday routine called for the four of them to leave in another family vehicle, with Jennifer dropping off Camille and Braydon at Kaleidoscope Charter School in Albertville (where class starts 7:30 a.m.) and then bringing Tristan to Spectrum High School in Elk River before Jennifer would begin a new day of management at Elk River’s Olde Main Eatery, which she and Greg have co-owned since August 2010.
But that morning, Jennifer was going to lose her cherished routine and road time with the children for at least a month.
At about 6:30 a.m., she left Camille’s side at the bathroom mirror, rounded a corner into Tristan’s room, told him that she felt she was about to faint, and then she did, ending unresponsive on his floor.
In a phone call to their father before dialing 911, Camille told Greg that she heard a loud thud after Jennifer had left the bathroom and entered Tristan’s room.
Nearly 24 hours later, as Jennifer was lying intubated and hooked to electrocardiogram equipment, under intensive care at North Memorial Medical Center in Robbinsdale, hospital staff rushed to administer CPR on her when she appeared to stop breathing.
Based on the readings they were seeing on room monitors, the staff recognized her condition and later diagnosed her with ventricular tachycardia, an arrhythmia that begins in a ventricle, along with long QT syndrome, a rare, related condition that is commonly hereditary and most often found in women, Greg and Jennifer both reported this week.
An attack brought on by either condition can be fatal for many of the victims.
Jennifer actually received CPR actually three times in those 24 hours.
The second instance came in the late afternoon at North Memorial, but the first time had come through the quick and competent actions of Tristan on the floor of his room, when he otherwise had been thinking about a new day at school.
His work and knowledge of CPR, after 20 or 30 seconds, brought his mother back to consciousness as they awaited the arrival of paramedics there.
Tristan said this week that he checked his mother twice for a pulse.
“She wasn’t breathing, she started turning purple, and I just started doing CPR,” he said.
Four years earlier, as a fifth-grade student, he had learned the skills in an after-school babysitting course at Swan River school in Monticello.
He had never been in another position to call up those skills before his mother entered his room, knowing she would need some sort of help.
Both Jennifer and Greg this week expressed pride but also elated surprise that their oldest child could offer that assistance. “I’m still amazed by it all,” said Jennifer.
She is treating her conditions with medication, and while she remained under intubation Jan. 15 at North Memorial, doctors placed a defibrillator above her heart through an incision near her collar bone.
The equipment enters her heart through an artery, and could take an estimated four weeks from the time of her surgery to fully connect and start regulating beats.
Her orders are to not raise her left arm above her head for those four weeks, so that the defibrillator may adapt to her body, and a follow-up appointment Jan. 29 showed that the process is working, she said.
Jennifer will return to meet with her cardiologist in two weeks, when she hopes to receive an OK for resuming some work at the restaurant.
She had felt occasionally, starting sometime last fall, like her heart had been racing. As a mother of three youth who are active in school and sports, though, along with handling most of the management of a restaurant, Jennifer chalked up those feelings to anxiety and stress, as had her primary doctor, she said.
On the morning of Jan. 11, she felt another of those moments, but accompanied by a sense of lightheadedness for the first time.
She said this week that she looks forward very much to a return to routine. “I usually go all day,” Jennifer said. “Sitting here doing nothing is really boring.”
But she and Greg are celebrating each new day, and thankful that Jennifer has not appeared to suffer paralysis or any loss of brain function.
“Most of the time with this condition, people don’t make it through,” said Jennifer.
“Doctors say this is a survivable situation,” said Greg. “There is light at the end of the tunnel. We’re extremely lucky, and praise God daily for the blessings that we’ve got.”
Paul Rignell is a freelance writer and former Monticello Times interim managing editor.