Published on May 20, 2021

Patient Gains a Second Birthday through Ozarks Healthcare

If you ask Shirley Arnold about her birthday, she’ll tell you she has two: one in March and one in April. She considers her March birthday extra special. On this birthday, her heart of service and compassion for others suddenly stopped beating. Shirley recently shared the story of how her heart got a second chance and how she gained a second birthday with us while volunteering at Ozarks Healthcare.

On March 17, 2016, Shirley Arnold began her day as she had many times before: volunteering at the West Plains Christian Clinic on Ozarks Healthcare’s campus. Volunteering has always been a passion of Shirley’s. She had many spent 14 years as an Ozarks Healthcare At Home: Hospice volunteer, and was the first volunteer to drive a shuttle for patients at Ozarks Healthcare’s hospital. On this particular day, her world changed at 11:50 a.m. when she collapsed in the clinic.

“There was no pain, no uneasiness, and no warning,” Shirley said. “I dropped to the floor like a rock and woke up to bright lights and voices with a tube down my throat.”

As soon as Shirley collapsed, her fellow volunteers in the clinic that day began calling for help. Dr. Chris Cochran, Ozarks Healthcare Internal Medicine, was nearby. He immediately began CPR on Shirley after he determined she had no heart beat and was not breathing.

“Dr. Cochran later told me I was declared clinically dead,” Shirley said.

The West Plains Christian Clinic and Dr. Cochran’s clinic are both located near the back of Ozarks Healthcare’s hospital. A nurse called a “Code Blue,” which summons all available healthcare personnel to resuscitate a patient. Dr. Curtis Horstman, Medical Director of Ozarks Healthcare’s Emergency Department (ED), arrived at the same time as an ambulance and paramedics came on scene.

“Dr. Horstman worked with the ambulance crew to shock and start my heart,” Shirley said. “I was told after six or seven shocks, they were able to gain a rhythm so they could transfer and rush me to the ED. Dr. Horstman later told me Dr. Cochran’s CPR had bought them enough time to get me to the ED.”

After three minutes, global cerebral ischemia (the lack of blood flow to the entire brain) can lead to progressively worsening brain injury. While Shirley’s medical team was concerned this would be the case, no brain damage was found. Shirley was sedated and put on a ventilator so that she could be monitored and undergo testing in the hospital’s Intensive Care Unit (ICU) for the next four to five days.

“I woke up with my hands tied down and a tube down my throat,” Shirley said. “When they released my hands, I would raise them to get my husband’s attention so that he would come to my bed. He would ask me, ‘Do you want to know what happened?’ and of course I did! He told me my heart had stopped and that I was in the hospital and would be okay. A few minutes later, I’d raise my hands and we would have the same conversation again. Apparently, my medicine was working well!”

Eventually, Shirley’s nurses were able to give her a pen and notepad so that she could communicate with her husband and care team while she was still in the ICU. Shirley laughed as she reflected on some of the notes she kept and reread:

“Some of my concerns were ‘Did my husband get the landscape blocks I wanted, did the Iowa basketball team win March Madness, and why had my new jacket been cut off me?’” she said. “As you can tell, I didn’t grasp the seriousness of the collapse at the time.”
After many tests, doctors found no explanation for Shirley’s collapse. Thankfully, she was healthy, but Dr. Cochran, Dr. Horstman, and Dr. William

“Andy” McGee, Chief Medical Officer (CMO) and cardiothoracic surgeon, Ozarks Healthcare Heart and Lung Center, made sure she left with protective measures in place just in case she were to experience a similar situation ever again. Dr. McGee placed a heart defibrillator in Shirley to monitor and detect any potential irregularity. After six days total in the hospital, Shirley was released to go home.

“Today, I take no medications,” Shirley said. “I am so thankful for Dr. Cochran, Dr. Horstman and so many other nurses and doctors who helped me. I was reminded that day that each day is a gift, and that God wants me to use them wisely. I am proud of our hospital and the dedicated staff who work tirelessly to meet the medical needs of our community.”

After regaining her strength, Shirley resumed her service as a volunteer at the West Plains Christian Clinic, shuttle driver, and hospice worker. Now retired, Shirley returns to the hospital every year on March 17, her “second birthday,” with cupcakes in hand for our ED staff.

“I call what I went through a birthday,” Shirley said. “God used a lot of people to put me back on my feet that day. I’m thankful every day for the gift of life.”

Ozarks Healthcare is a system of care encompassing primary care and specialty clinics, along with complete rehabilitation, behavioral healthcare, and home health services. While the 114-bed acute care hospital cares for more than 5,400 admissions, the entire health system has more than 364,000 patient visits annually in South Central Missouri and Northern Arkansas. For more information about Ozarks Healthcare, visit www.OzarksHealthcare.com.

Shirley Arnold
Shirley Arnold

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