ReSS: Cardiac arrest survivor credits wife, CPR

Q&A with William A. Flanary, MD, aka Dr. Glaucomflecken, provides a glimpse into his experience surviving cardiac arrest.

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On May 11, 2020, William A. Flanary, MD, a 34-year-old ophthalmologist, went to bed like every other night.

Three days later, he woke up in an ICU bed, recovering from a cardiac arrest. With no warning signs or family history of heart disease, he still isn’t sure why it happened. But he uses his platform as speaker and comedian Dr. Glaucomflecken (@DGlaucomflecken) to spotlight how CPR saves lives in emergencies.

Here, Dr. Flanary shares some of his experience. To hear more, attend ReSS 2020: Survivorship at 9 a.m. Saturday.

William A. Flanary, MD

Q: What happened on May 11, 2020?

A: I had a ventricular fibrillation cardiac arrest in my sleep at 4 a.m. My wife heard me breathing “funny,” which woke her up. Turns out, I was having agonal breaths, which are a sign of cardiac arrest. She performed 10 minutes of CPR before EMS finally arrived. She saved my life.

Q: Had you had any symptoms that day?

A: No, I felt completely normal. A little tired, but that’s pretty normal for us.

Q: What did you think when you learned you had a cardiac arrest?

A: I was pretty confused when I woke up, and it took me a few days to process what happened. My entire medical workup was normal. We still don’t know the cause.  

Q: How was your recovery period?

A: It went well. I had an excellent medical team, and my family also played a big part in my recovery. At this point, I feel back to normal.

Q: Who was your biggest champion during that time?

A: Definitely my wife. She saved me.

Q: What was the most difficult part?

A: Initially, the hardest part was sleeping at night — not knowing if I would wake up in the morning. That has gotten a lot better, but it took a few weeks to get there.

Q: How has your humor helped?

A: Humor is how I process grief and tragedy in my life. It’s my coping mechanism. If I didn’t find the humor in this awful situation, the gravity of it all would crush me.

Q: What does it mean to you to be a survivor?

A: I don’t think of myself as a survivor, really. I had this bad thing happen, I made it through, and now I’m OK. What means more to me is that I’m able to reach out to the public using my platform to create some meaningful change, and also sing the praises of my amazing partner.

Q: What is the most important thing you learned from this event that you’d like to pass on to others?

A: Everybody, and I mean EVERYBODY, needs to learn CPR. It doesn’t take long to learn, and you can save a life. There is literally no downside.