A dedicated runner, Stephanie Arnold posted a career-best time in a half marathon a year ago but doesn’t remember it.
Moments after crossing the finish line of the Seattle See Jane Run race, the 44-year-old mother of two collapsed. With paramedics on site, her heart stopped.
It was restarted, twice. CPR was performed, she learned later, for nearly 30 minutes.
“My son Stephen told me I started with nine lives, like a cat, and I’ve now used two of them,” Arnold said.
The safety and security manager at U.S. Oil & Refining Co. in Tacoma was felled by sudden cardiac arrest.
“They never determined why,” she said.
She’d never had a heart problem, had been athletic all of her life.
Since dying last July 15, Arnold has gotten better.
An induced coma and cold storage — she was placed in a body suit, then chilled to 97 degrees while her body healed — saved her life as surely as those paramedics did.
When she was released from the hospital, she emerged a woman with two missions.
“I wanted to run again, and I have,” she said. “And I want to promote heart-healthy living. I’ve done a lot of research, and there’s such an increase in heart disease because of lifestyle choices. We don’t eat right, we don’t exercise — and our children are dying too young.”
Arnold lives in Puyallup with her two children, Melissa, 16, and Stephen, 13. Once she returned to her job, she began a healthy-living program with the support of her employers.
Through it, she started creating quarterly challenges that could be met with a reasonable amount of effort.
“Some were nutrition, some were exercise,” she said.
One of the contractors who participated took Arnold’s story — and her advice — home with him. With his wife’s participation, he rid the cupboards of junk food. He, his wife and daughter began walking and exercising.
In three months, the family lost a combined 90 pounds.
“That’s inspiring,” Arnold said.
Two months before her heart attack last July, she had spent time in the hospital with kidney failure. She had digestive issues, too. Her kids weren’t keen on her running the See Jane Run half-marathon, a race dedicated to all women runners.
When she collapsed at the end, race organizers called her house. Stephen answered the phone.
“They told him I was hurt at the race and he thought it was my kidney again,” Arnold said. “He asked them to call his grandparents.”
The organizers told Arnold’s parents, Greg and Linda Heitz, that their daughter was being taken to the hospital, her condition dire.
Three months later, cleared by her doctors, Arnold walked the Black Cat Run in Tacoma with both parents. Since then, she has hiked, biked and run.
“On the Fourth of July, I got up on water skis for the first time in a year,” she said.
Last weekend, she was prepared to run the See Jane Run race, a challenge she’d given herself in the hospital a year earlier. The day before the run, she had severe back pain and wound up in an emergency room.
She had a bladder infection and a kidney infection, for which she’s now being treated.
“I’m happy to be upright,” she said with a laugh. “If I’d had my heart attack while training or when I was on the course last July, I’d have died. There’s a 2 percent survivability rate for what I went through.
“If the medics weren’t right there when I went down, I’m not alive.”
Since her heart attack, Arnold said, she’s researched heart disease.
“It kills more women than breast cancer, and unlike cancer, it can be controlled to some extent,” she said. “I’d like to see more education. If telling my story helps someone, great.
“When I started to walk again, I walked with my dad. We’d walk the track when Stephen was at soccer practice. My dad has lost about 40 pounds, my mom about 30, just by walking and eating better.”Larry LaRue: 253-597-8638