Bless Your Heart: The Kindness of Strangers



Bill Amirault Photo by Jeff Nelson; Hair by Ty Hernandez; Makeup by Megan Gregory, THE LOOK Hair Salon & Beauty Boutique

It was Jan. 15, 2017, and Bill Amirault, 46, an experienced runner, was only 100 yards from the finish line of a half-marathon in Key West, Fla. “Suddenly, I got tunnel vision and thought I was going to faint, so I took a knee and then lay down on the ground.”

The next thing he remembers, he was being lifted into an ambulance to take him to a local hospital.

Though Amirault, who lives in Colorado Springs, had no family history of heart disease, he had just gone into cardiac arrest. “I was technically dead for six to eight minutes,” he says. Still, he considers himself a very fortunate man. “The doctors told me that this could have happened to me at any time, so I was lucky to be where I was.”

Lucky because a nurse, Amy Smythe, who had just finished the half-marathon herself (running a personal best), saw Amirault slow down and even began to cheer him on—“You’re almost to the finish line!”—when she realized something serious was going on.

“She ran over, immediately realized I wasn’t breathing normally—I was in something called ventricular fibrillation— and started doing CPR,” Amirault says. “And that was so important, because once your heart stops, your chances of survival drop 10 percent for every minute you are deprived of oxygen.” Two other nurses, Amy Voss and Robbie Ladd, quickly joined Smythe and the three began to alternate doing CPR until paramedics stationed at the finish line rushed in to apply an automatic external defibrillator (AED) and shock Amirault’s heart back to normal function. It all happened within minutes.

By the time Amirault was in the ambulance, he was awake and able to speak by cellphone to his wife, Becky, who had been waiting for him just around the corner at the finish line. She had not seen him go down but had seen the paramedics and ambulance arrive, having no idea they were there for her husband.

“One of the doctors at the event said to me, ‘You were very lucky. There were some good bystanders who jumped in and saved your life until we got there,’” Amirault says. “I said, ‘Do you know who they are?’ And he said, ‘No, they just took over, and then they left.’”

After Amirault was life-flighted to Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami, where he was joined by Becky, the two were determined to figure out who these kind strangers were who had given him a second chance at life. “We began looking online for news stories about the marathon, but couldn’t find anything,” he says. “So I just took my cellphone and did one take of a video—‘This is my name, this is what just happened to me, and I’m looking for the people who helped me—and, by the way, learn CPR if you don’t know it already’—and my wife posted it on Facebook. It got something like 800,000 views and we were able to identify all three of the people within 24 hours.”

The doctors, who could not pinpoint why the cardiac arrest happened when it did, implanted an internal defibrillator in Amirault that will jumpstart his heart if this ever happens again. Meanwhile, he, his wife and his 17-year-old stepdaughter have all been trained in CPR—and he even got to meet his guardian angels— during a reunion arranged by Harry Connick Jr.’s TV show.

Amirault, who has long worked in the software business, is working on developing a technology that will allow people to use the data on their fitness devices and apps to do positive things, such as raise money for charity.

And he has a new day of the year to celebrate: “I have a new birthday now: Jan. 15. It’s my re-birthday.”

45.1%: Coronary heart disease is the leading cause of deaths attributable to cardiovascular disease in the nation. 

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