The First Day of the Rest of Her Life

FireFamilyJosie Evans was at an outdoor CrossFit class in March 2014 when she suddenly fell to the ground, unconscious. Fortunately, her boyfriend Keenan Makin was there, too. A patient care technician at Billings Clinic's emergency department, he knew CPR and performed the life-saving procedure on Josie until an ambulance arrived. Paramedics restarted Josie’s heart with an automated external defibrillator twice on the way to the hospital. Her heart stopped two more times in the emergency room.

Thanks to everyone’s quick actions, the Montana woman survived her cardiac arrest, but the episode changed her life considerably. Josie and Keenan were an active young couple. Their relationship was a year old. They had just moved in together with Kennan’s two young sons. Josie was applying to nursing schools, while Keenan was planning to become a firefighter. Suddenly, all their plans were put on hold.

Doctors determined that Josie had a condition which could result in cardiac arrest from stress or strenuous physical activity. Until they figured out the best treatment for her, she wasn’t allowed to exercise.

“I wasn’t a very good patient,” Josie says. Inactivity “drove me crazy.” After a year, with a defibrillator implanted, Josie was allowed to resume mild exercise. She says that the time she spent recovering was a struggle: physically, emotionally and financially. But Josie and Keenan were determined to fight for their family and their future.

JSCanoeJosie and Keenan both realized their professional goals. Josie attended nursing school, graduated in 2016 and now works as a nurse for a clinic in Billings. Keenan is a firefighter for the Lockwood Fire District.

Because Josie and Keenan are acutely aware of the benefits of CPR, they are both CPR instructors. In addition, Josie “pays it forward” by volunteering every year during American Heart Month at CPR Saturday, a collaborative event between the American Heart Association and Billings-area hospitals, that provides CPR training to the community every February.

Although her recovery was a difficult time for her family, Josie is grateful for the lessons the experience taught her. She says it has made her more empathetic toward her patients and that understanding their vulnerability helps her build stronger connections with them.

Do you or a loved one struggle with heart disease? The American Heart Association’s Support Network(link opens in new window) can connect you with other survivors, professionals and caregivers. You do not have to recover alone.