A second life for JeniferJenifer Fergusson has a list of things she intends to do before she leaves this earth. (Picture by Nigel Browne.)
By Sherie Holder-Olutayo | Sun, September 23, 2012 - 12:00 AM
Jenifer Fergusson lives by a simple philosophy; “Live in the moment, and live every day to the fullest as if it was your last."
Eight years ago on October 18, 2004, as she was sitting in her cubicle at her job in New York getting ready for a busy workday, Jenifer went into full cardiac arrest.
“My co-worker to the right thought I was snoring,” Jenifer recalled. “I don’t know why she would think that. But I could hear her calling me but I just couldn’t respond. It took four people to lift me onto the floor because I was heavier than I am now.”
Jenifer revealed that in that state of being basically dead and with her co-workers in a frenzy to get her help and medical attention, she saw that “light” that is often described by people who had experienced death briefly.
“Not only did I see the light but I saw my daddy, who had died 14 years earlier,” Jenifer said. “He had black hair and had looked so good and it was so lush and beautiful where he was, and I remember moving towards him. My daddy said to me, ‘Princess Jen Jen, do not come’.”
While she was out on the floor, her colleagues had raced to get the defibrillator that was part of the first aid kit in her office.
“We had a vice-president who was a lunatic and thought he would have a heart attack, so he ordered a defibrillator for the office,” she said. “Had the office not had that I would have never come back.”
Jenifer said they shocked her twice and all she remembered was moving towards her father. The fifth time they used the defibrillator, Jenifer said, her father yelled to her, “Princess Jen Jen, do not come.”
“Whenever my father said something forcefully, you listened,” she said. “They’re only supposed to use a defibrillator to shock you twice, but my boss was determined I wasn’t to die. When I fully came back I screamed so loudly the other side of the office heard.”
After being rushed to the hospital and placed in the hands of cardiac team, Jenifer learned what had caused her near-death experience.
“I discovered I had an arrhythmia and I have a high-stress job,’’ she said. “We also have a genetic defect with our heart on our side of the family because of our father, who died from congenital heart disease.”
That discovery prompted Jenifer’s doctors to implant a defibrillator on the left side of her body so that if her heart stopped again, the machine would be able to jump-start her heart.
“After that I lost weight, I exercised, changed my diet because I felt I was given a gift of life,” Jenifer recalled. “But I also decided to put things in place like updating my will because I wasn’t sure if I was going to survive.”
Jenifer also said that she made a conscious effort to stave off stress in her life. She returned to work two weeks after the cardiac arrest on a modified schedule of only about four hours a day a few days a week.
The modifications seem to be working and eventually she was able to resume her work schedule. For the last eight years she has had no other episodes or challenges. All that was important to her was keeping her stress level under control.
“I’ve noticed that if I get overly emotional or stressed, the device reacts and I feel pain,” Jenifer said.
Within the last eight years Jenifer has travelled, and made a list of things she wants to do before she leaves this earth, including learning to play the piano and going to Japan. She has spoken at several organizations in New York and in Barbados on heart disease, and has pushed to get companies to have defibrillators on hand in the event of emergencies.
“Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women, so try to eliminate weight from your middle especially,” Jenifer says. “Try to walk a lot because walking is the best way to strengthen your heart.”
This past May, Jenifer had to undergo a simple surgery to replace the defibrillator because the battery was deteriorating.
“A defibrillator typically lasts for five years, but mine lasted for eight,” she said. “But I needed to have the device replaced.”
The replacement surgery generally takes about an hour and Jenifer’s sister was in the waiting room reading until the surgery was finished.
“My sister was reading this book and she had lost track of time when she saw a team of doctors coming towards her,” Jenifer revealed. “They told her that the lead from the battery had been exposed and had started to cut into my heart and they were trying to stop the bleeding. They had to use hypothermia and freeze my body temperature to induce a coma in order to save my life. I was in a coma for four days.”
What Jenifer later found out was that the first defibrillator that she had used had been recalled because of defective leads, so she is now suing the company.
“The lead literally sliced up my heart and sent me into cardiac arrest,” she said. “Needless to say, I’m suing the pants off that company because about 40 people have already died. I was very fortunate.”
“My heart is doing okay,” she says, smiling. “I’m on three types of medication and I thank the Lord. My heart is getting stronger every day.”
A month later Jenifer had to return to surgery to have the new defibrillator put in place – on the right side of her body this time.
“That morning I said another prayer, gave my sister power of attorney and I said if anything happens bury me with daddy and call everybody on my cellphone and let them know I’m no longer here,” Jenifer said. “An hour later or less I woke up in the recovery room and I said, ‘Thank you, Jesus’.”
Jenifer admits that she has dealt with her illness with a lot of humour. But the last few years have given her a greater appreciation of life. She also credits her sister Ingrid Fergusson for being the most phenomenal sister and standing by her, along with her friend Margaret Haynes.
“The prognosis for me with the medication is that I don’t have to get another defibrillator for eight years,” Jenifer said. “But honestly I want to make the next eight years of my life the absolute best that they can be. If I have to go back into surgery and something goes wrong, I don’t want to go through that again. I’ve lived a good full life but within the next eight years I will take my trip to Japan, I will learn how to play the piano. I will do all the things that I want to do and, who knows, perhaps even find a husband.”
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