Twists and Turns: La Crosse woman reflects helping save husband’s life

Kathy Helgerson, after receiving guidance from emergency dispatch, performed CPR on her husband, Andy, after he suffered a recent heart attack

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) – We all go through surprises in life, some good and some not so good.

Recently, a La Crosse couple went through an unpleasant surprise that changed their lives forever.

Life can seem like everything is normal.

“I don’t drink,” La Crosse resident Andy Helgerson said. “I don’t smoke. I work out.”

On the day before Mother’s Day, Helgerson says he was playing pickle ball with his son. But Andy started experiencing some discomfort.

“And although I don’t remember any of this, we cut the game short because I was feeling some jaw pain,” Helgerson said. “I do have record of sending a text to my wife asking her to bring me home some TUMS.”

When his wife, Kathy, came home, she knew something wasn’t right.

“I heard a grunting noise,” Kathy said. “And I was very watchful of him that day. But I went into the bedroom and I couldn’t wake him up. So I went to my phone to call 9-1-1.”

Andy was suffering from a heart attack.

“At first, I said I can’t do CPR,” Kathy said. “I’m too scared to go in there. And then she said you have to give CPR. And I said I can do CPR, I believe.”

First responders arrived very soon after.

“They had to shock his heart one time, and they got a pulse after five minutes,” Kathy said.

At first, Andy’s condition wasn’t improving.

“Our neighbor, Dr. Pearson, showed up at the hospital for a very important meeting when we were told he wasn’t going to get any better, that he may live out his life in a vegetative state,” Kathy said. “He told myself and my daughter that we just needed look for improvements everyday, and so that’s what we’ve been living by.”

After just 19 days, Andy was released from the hospital.

“We are very lucky,” Kathy said. “We’re very blessed. Both of us right?”

“Right,” Andy said.

Heather Grimsled, who is an emergency dispatcher for Gundersen Lutheran, talked Kathy through CPR. She also got a pleasant surprise.

“Code ‘save’ is my very first survivor that has been documented,” Grimsled said.

“Lucky me,” Andy replied.

“Oh, that’s beautiful!,” Kathy added.

“But it’s because of your CPR that the shock was advised when it was hooked up,” Grimsled told Kathy. “Because had your CPR not been adequate enough, he would not have had a shock-able rhythm once the police officer got here.”

Andy is taking just a few medications now, and is back to playing pickle ball once again.

“I’m happy with the progress, and every day I wake up and more aware of what’s going on and what happened,” Andy said. “And, I wouldn’t wish it upon my worst enemy, but it’s definitely makes us stronger.”

He says no matter how healthy you are, life can take a sudden turn.

“Just goes to show you can do everything right as far as your lifestyle and still don’t know,” Andy said. “A lot of prayers were answered.”

Andy is retired.

Kathy is on an AARP committee, and also works with the Dementia Friendly Community Coalition.