Ray Antonopoulos has heard his wife call for him many times, but never with the urgency she portrayed Wednesday night as he coached the West Newbury Little League Farm League A’s.
“My wife said, ‘Ray,’” Antonopoulos said. “It was in a tone indicative that it was something important. I went over to see what she needed, and there was a woman slumped over in the bleachers. She was in cardiac arrest.”
West Newbury resident and Georgetown native Samantha Graham, 45, went into cardiac arrest in the bleachers while searching for a snack for her kindergartner daughter, Laken. Graham, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in December, had received a particularly strong chemotherapy treatment the day before at Commonwealth Hematology and Oncology, placing significant stress on her heart.
“I remember everything up to the point that I went into cardiac arrest,” said Graham, who works as a building aide at the Page Elementary School. “Of course, my kindergartner was at the playground next to the field. My husband was watching her, and I went to relieve him, and my daughter wanted a snack. So it just so happened that he was next to me when it happened, and that’s unusual in these events. Usually, we’re split. I went to reach for a snack, and when I went for it, I slumped into my husband’s arms. I couldn’t verbalize that I wasn’t OK.”
Antonopoulos, who was trained in CPR as a member of the Coast Guard from 1999 to 2002, moved Graham out of the bleachers onto grass next to the field. Graham’s son, Macadam, a second-grader at Page Elementary, was actually at the plate at the time, with no idea that his mother was in need of immediate medical care. Another parent moved Laken away from her mother as Antonopoulos began CPR.
“The kids were upset,” Antonopoulos said. “The family was around, saying, ‘Don’t let her die.’ It was pretty scary and intense.”
Antonopoulos, who was an EMT 10 years ago and now works in the Department of Homeland Security, estimates he performed CPR — with chest compressions and rescue breathing — for 2 1/2 minutes before West Newbury resident Jeff Meisner joined. Meisner, who was trained in CPR through his job as an administrator at Exeter Hospital, was watching his son play on another field in the same complex when he saw people rushing over to Graham.
“It seemed like we were doing CPR for six to eight minutes,” said Meisner, who attended Georgetown High with Graham. “Someone called 911, and the response was pretty quick. I think the EMTs arrived first, and one of the nice things was that there was a defibrillator available.”
The EMTs attached the defibrillator to Graham and attempted to restart her heart through an electric charge. The first attempt failed, so Antonopoulos and Meisner resumed CPR. After another cycle, the EMTs gave the defibrillator a second attempt. Graham’s heart restarted, and she was conscious before she left the field in an ambulance.
“Those machines are great,” Meisner said of the defibrillator. “It tells you what to do. After the first shock, it said to keep doing CPR. After the second one, we backed off. I think by the time they were taking her away, she was alert. It was great to hear her voice.”
Meisner said he has performed CPR “a few times” before, and was confident Graham would pull through.
“Having done this, I could tell she wasn’t giving up,” Meisner said. “She was fighting. Her body was trying so hard, but struggling so much. I was praying the whole time, but I was confident she would pull through. It was scary, though. Make no mistake about that.”
Antonopoulos checked on Graham in the hospital, speaking with her by phone Thursday. After it was determined that Graham was at no immediate risk of going into cardiac arrest, she was discharged from Anna Jaques Friday. She has an appointment with her doctors at Commomwealth Hematology and Oncology tomorrow to determine the best course of treatment going forward. The original plan was to have a final chemotherapy treatment three weeks from her last one. Then six radiation treatments would follow.
“The cardiologist in the (emergency room) was able to read the reports from the defibrillator,” Graham said. “He made it clear that if Ray and Jeff had not been there, I wouldn’t have made it. The entire West Newbury community has been so sweet. The outpouring of support has been overwhelming.”
After Wednesday’s health scare, Graham believes she may have a defibrillator implanted in her chest to monitor her heart at all times. For now, she is just happy to have two kids who seem relatively unfazed by the event.
“When I was able to make a phone call at Anna Jaques, I called my kids, who were sleeping over at a girlfriend’s house,” Graham said. “My kindergartner’s biggest concern was that she still wanted to have a school-night sleepover. I said, ‘Yes, you still get to have a school-night sleepover.’ It was her first one ever. I think the joy of that eclipsed any fear she felt.”