Return to story
This group photo was taken before Patty Bliss (far right) suffered her cardiac arrest.
By CATHY DYSON
A sheriff's deputy who had never performed CPR in an emergency helped save the life of a Stafford County woman whose heart stopped beating as she embarked on her first cruise.
On Oct. 20, Patty Bliss joined neighbor Lisa Logan and others from the Sheriff's Office and various government offices in Stafford County for a weekend getaway.
The 25 women gathered in Norfolk for Carnival Glory's "cruise to nowhere." The ship went out to sea that Saturday at 4 p.m., and returned Monday morning.
The Stafford group was eager to enjoy every minute of the cruise and was one of the first onboard after those with special needs.
By 12:30 p.m., the Stafford women were on deck with lunch and drinks while other passengers arrived.
Logan and Bliss were seated, and the two were talking. The next moment, Logan said Bliss had passed out and was hanging over the side of her chair.
Logan, who works in crime prevention, thought Bliss was choking or having a seizure. She's known her neighbor about two years and called Bliss' husband, Kenny, to see if Patty had any medical conditions Logan didn't know about.
He said she didn't.
Meanwhile, 1st Sgt. Nancy Morin and Detective Christine Hammond were among those gathered. Morin didn't think she could help if Bliss were having a seizure, but looked closer and saw Bliss wasn't having seizure-like symptoms at all.
She wasn't breathing, she didn't have a pulse, and her skin had turned grayish-purple, Morin said.
Bliss was suffering from sudden cardiac arrest. Her heart had stopped pumping blood throughout her body.
"I thought she was gone," said Morin, whose two daughters, 26 and 27, were nearby.
The older daughter, a nurse, started to cry. She was certain the woman on the floor was dead.
Morin immediately started cardiopulmonary resuscitation. Even though she's been with the Sheriff's Office for 15 years and has been trained and recertified in CPR, she's never performed the procedure on a person.
Morin did the chest compressions while Hammond blew into Bliss' mouth. Pamela Cobb, a paralegal with Stafford's Commonwealth's Attorney Office, did the counting.
For every 30 times Morin pushed on Bliss' chest, Hammond blew two breaths into her mouth. The color came back to Bliss' skin as the two helped her maintain life.
"Christine was breathing for her, and I was pumping her heart," Morin said. "Her body was reacting to what we were doing."
'YOU MEAN SHE'S ALIVE?'
Bliss' heart didn't start beating on its own. Other women in the group asked crew members for an automated external defibrillator, a device that sends an electric shock to people suffering from cardiac arrest.
Cobb said crew members weren't responding, but instead "ran around in circles trying to figure out what to do."
Logan said that Liz Scott, a Spotsylvania County deputy, clapped her hands in the face of one crew member and told him to get the device--"and get it now!"
By that point, Morin and Hammond had given CPR for 15 to 20 minutes.
When the defibrillator arrived, a crew member shocked Bliss once, and the machine indicated another shock was needed. When the crew member hesitated, Hammond pushed the button to shock Bliss again.
By that time, a ship stretcher had arrived, and Bliss was rolled away. She was taken by ambulance to Norfolk Sentara Hospital.
Those on the ship were certain she had died.
Logan went with Bliss to the hospital and texted Morin later, asking how it felt to save a life.
"You mean she's alive?" Morin asked, shocked.
Bliss spent five days in the hospital, and doctors determined that an infection around her heart had caused cardiac arrest.
She had a defibrillator implanted in her chest. If her heart stops again, the device will send a shock to restart it.
'WORDS CAN'T DESCRIBE IT'
Bliss is 42, and an administrative assistant for a Washington firm that deals with national security and public safety.
She's never had a problem with her heart or a family history of heart problems.
"I watch my cholesterol, work out three times a week," she said in a phone interview.
Bliss doesn't remember boarding the ship, getting her luggage or taking a group photo with seven other women from Stafford.
"I realized I was in the hospital--I don't know if it was that day or the next--and I had to ask what was going on," she said. "I had no idea."
She did realize that people came together to save her life. Morin, Logan and others visited her in the hospital the Monday the cruise ended, and Bliss cried as soon as she saw them.
"When you find out somebody saved your life oh my gosh, words can't describe it," Bliss said. "You're very thankful."
Logan said everyone in the group was ready to help Bliss, whom they'd just met.
"It was definitely a team effort," she said. "There were 24 women ready to do whatever it took."
'CPR SAVES LIVES'
Several people have emailed the couple with their accounts of events. The Blisses aren't sure if they'll file a complaint or take legal action against the cruise line.
Carnival reviewed the incident and emailed a five-point response to The Free Lance-Star. It said bystanders had started CPR and that the on-board emergency medical team promptly responded.
The email detailed how many shocks were applied, based on the machine's printout, but not who did them. The cruise line also pointed out that resuscitation efforts were successful, and defibrillators are strategically located throughout the ship.
Those in the Stafford group on the cruise agreed that Patty Bliss was in the right place at the right time.
"I shudder to think of her fate if our deputies had not been next to her," said Camila Shover, an administrator with the Stafford Department of Parks, Recreation & Community Facilities.
Morin says she's ready to preach from the mountaintops that anyone in contact with people should learn CPR. She's ready to become an instructor.
Morin said she realizes some are afraid they'll hurt people by giving CPR to a patient who doesn't need it. But at her last class, Morin asked about that and was told CPR can't hurt a person.
It can only help.
"CPR saves lives. If Patty had to wait for help to arrive, she would not be alive," Morin said. "There is no doubt in my mind."
Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425