Taking a loved one off life support is one of the hardest decisions people face. We hope to never be in that position but for many it’s unavoidable. Back in 2007, when Ryan Finley’s wife suffered from cardiac arrest he was ultimately faced with this difficult choice. He weighed his options and “pulled the plug”. In her final moments, something incredible happened.
A Day Unlike Any Other
Finley and his wife were home, enjoying a lazy day. Ryan was reading the newspaper, as he often does on weekend mornings. Jill, his wife, was still sleeping. Typically, he’d just let her sleep in but on this particular Saturday in May his intuition kicked in. “I can’t tell you why,” Ryan said. “But I just felt that I wanted to wake her up that day.”
Help is on the Way
As a result, he went in to wake her. She was unresponsive and a panicked Ryan called the paramedics. The operator coached him through CPR until help arrived. Ryan stood outside of the room waiting for his wife to hopefully be revived.
“I could, I could actually hear the machine going,” Ryan said. “A thump and then the second thump. I heard Jill coming back down and hitting the wood floor.” He said, reliving the horrible moments in which he thought he’d lost his wife. Using a defibrillator, the paramedics worked to shock her heart. The device is designed to send an electric pulse to the heart in an attempt to restore the natural heart rhythm. Unfortunately, Jill remained unresponsive, and she was taken to the hospital.
Arriving at the Hospital
Doctors at Oklahoma Heart Hospital put Jill in what they call a “cooling suit”. The suit was designed to help restore body temperature. Medical professionals hoped to keep her brain from overheating and becoming damaged. “We moved directly to this induced hypothermia, which is basically a refrigerated suit that we wrap around the torso and the legs to begin cooling her body core temperature down to about 33 degrees Celsius,” said Dr. Michael Schoeffler, “There [are] studies that have shown that it helps protect the brain in hopes that she will have a recovery.”
Schoeffler and his team treated Jill with the suit and 24 hours later began to warm her body to its natural temperature. In some cases, Doctors have successfully resuscitated patients during the warmup process. However, Jill still remained unresponsive and in a vegetative state. “She fell into a category where there was probably a 1 percent — well, maybe give or take 1 percent — chance for being a functional person afterwards,” Schoeffler said.
Ryan stayed, day and night, at the hospital, hoping for his wife’s recovery. “Every morning I’d wake up and I’d realize, this isn’t a dream,” Ryan said. “The doctors told me that there were never any signs that she was coming back. There wasn’t.”
Preparing for False Hope
After some time, he spoke with Jill’s parents. Collectively, they decided that Jill wouldn’t want to spend her life in this state and living on a feeding tube. The family requested a court order to remove the feeding tube, and so the rest was up to Jill. Ryan braced himself for what he thought would be the end of his wife’s life. “Today could be the worst day of life. I essentially have to decide whether or not Jill will live or not. My soulmate. My everything.” He had written in his diary that morning.
To eliminate any false hope, doctors briefed Ryan on being prepared for any tiny muscle spasms or reflexes. Often, as the body shuts down, it expels the last of its gases and nerve endings are working through their last messages. “Her whole upper torso would just kind of shift a little bit. And then the mumbling would start,” Ryan said. “When that started, I left the room. I physically got sick,”
Around 5 hours later, something amazing happened. “One of the nurses came and got me and told me, ‘Ryan, I think you need to come back into the room,‘” Ryan said. Jill was responsive and communicative. Much to his surprise, his wife had come out of it! “[She said] ‘Get me out of here. … I want to go home.’ And then she started telling me she wanted to go get something to eat.” He recalled. “She knew our dog’s name, our cat’s name, our phone number. She knew our address immediately.”
On the Road to Recovery
Although Jill doesn’t remember waking up, she credits God with the miracle. “Honestly, I think God had a big part to play in it or he is the reason,” Jill said in an interview. “He’s the reason why I’m here today talking to you.” Coming out of a coma was not without its challenges. “It was so frustrating because just brushing my teeth, even when I’d go to brush my teeth, my fine motor skills weren’t all the best. And so, I would get toothpaste all over my face,” Jill said. “And then when I’d go to tie my shoe, I couldn’t tie my shoe in a knot.”
Despite the challenges she’s faced, she knows her husband made the right decision. “I would not have wanted to live like that,” Jill said. “And so he did the right thing, he did. Because they basically told him that I was going to be a vegetable. I was going to be laying there in bed, you know, wearing diapers for the rest of my life and that’s just not me.”
Ryan shared he wouldn’t have done anything differently and has since kept a closer eye on Jill. He stated, “There’s still not a night that goes by that I don’t wake up,” Ryan said. “I’ll usually kick her and if she kicks me back, I know we’re OK.”
This amazing story, although uncommon, does speak of the hope that medical professionals give to the world. Every day, they work tirelessly to heal others and bring hope to those whose loved ones may be fighting for their lives.
- “Back From the Brink: ‘I Want to Go Home’.” ABC News. Joanne Napolitano and Tracie Hunte. Retrieved January 15, 2023.