In the Loop

News and views from across Mayo Clinic

November 14, 2022

Reflecting on a decision that ‘dictated the course of our lives’

By In the Loop

Ten years ago, Lori Hansen had a heart attack and later went into cardiac arrest. The team that saved her life that night — and in the weeks ahead — "dictated the course of our lives," daughter, Jessica, says. The family is deeply grateful for the men and women who make sacrifices in their own lives to help save others.

When Jessica Hansen's phone rang at 4:30 a.m., she answered not with "Hello" but instead with "What's wrong?"

Jessica's father was on the other end of the line. "Mom had a little heart attack," he said.

That was only partially true. Jessica's mother, Lori Hansen, had indeed had a heart attack. But as doctors at Mayo Clinic in Rochester were discovering, it was anything but little.

While Jessica scrambled to get to Rochester from Austin, Texas, Lori's care team scrambled to save her life. She'd been taken to the Cardiac Catheterization Laboratory for treatment, then went into cardiac arrest. That led to 50 minutes of CPR, 10 shocks with an external defibrillator, intubation and finally, placement on a heart-lung machine for extracorporeal membrane oxygenation

"This was our very first case of ECMO placement during a STEMI (a type of heart attack) in our cath lab," says Gurpreet Sandhu, M.D., Ph.D., a cardiologist who led the team that cared for Lori.

While that team's efforts saved her life in the moment, Lori would come to rely on many additional teams to save her in the days and weeks ahead.

"In a sense, all of Mayo Clinic came together for Lori starting on that fateful night," Dr. Sandhu says. "From the Cath Lab staff and nurses who performed highly effective CPR, to intense efforts by multidisciplinary teams from cardiology, anesthesiology, surgery, critical care, nursing and rehab, many people played key roles in her amazing recovery."

Lori spent two weeks on ECMO — weeks her family spent by her bedside, willing her to live.

"I was six months pregnant with my parents' first grandchild," Jessica says. "My older sister was engaged, and my younger sister was a senior in high school. We kept telling our mom, 'You'll be there for the wedding. For the baby. For graduation.' The staff tried to get us to understand how unlikely any of that was. They told us she was the sickest person at Mayo Clinic and that she probably wouldn't make it."

But miraculously, Lori got better. "She surprised everyone," Jessica says.

Lori's recovery would be slow. "At first, I couldn't walk or even lift a spoon to my mouth," she says. "I had PT and OT appointments every day."

But a month after she arrived at Mayo Clinic, she was able to go home. Several months after that, she returned to her job working with special education students.

In the years that have followed, Lori has enjoyed important milestones with her family. She was at her daughter's high school graduation and each of her daughters' weddings. She was there for the birth of her first grandchild — and for the births of the four that followed.  

"She's the loudest fan at all of their events," Jessica says. "We can't imagine life without her. And it's thanks to Dr. Sandhu and his team that she's still here with us."

Lori agrees.

"Mayo Clinic saved my life," she says.

Now it's helping to save Jessica's, too. In 2021, Jessica was diagnosed with breast cancer and began seeing another Dr. Sandhu — Nicole Sandhu, M.D., Ph.D., the wife of the man who saved her mother.

"Dr. Sandhu is just as compassionate and smart as her husband," Jessica says. "When I met her, I instantly felt safe and cared for. I know I'm in the very best hands."

As Jessica reflects on the impact the Sandhus have had on her family, she can't help but think of how their work has affected their own.

"I think of the hours and hours they spent training, the years of schooling, and the sacrifices they've made for their patients," she says. "They have kids. Dr. Sandhu could have been at home sleeping when my mom had a heart attack. Instead, he was working at the hospital."

Both Jessica and Lori say they are deeply grateful to Mayo Clinic.

"Every time I think about what happened 10 years ago, it makes me tear up," Lori says. "Everything lined up perfectly in my favor. The right team was there to take care of me. They all made me feel like I was their only patient. It still feels just incredible that I'm here."

It feels incredible to her family, too. Each year, they spend Lori's "heartiversary" together, reflecting on the "extraordinary gift" of still having her with them. A gift they say was given by the compassionate and caring people who showed up and did their best on their family's worst day.

"It is impossible to put into words what our mom means to us and how appreciative we are to Dr. Sandhu, his colleagues and Mayo as a whole," Jessica says. "The decision Dr. Sandhu made to try and save my mother dictated the course of our lives."


Tags: Cardiac Catheterization Laboratory, Dr. Gurpreet Sandhu, Dr. Nicole Sandhu, ECMO, Patient Stories

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