Monday was the first anniversary of the day Judy Mims nearly died. Unlike most heart attack victims, Mims wanted to celebrate that anniversary by meeting the firefighters and paramedics who rescued her that fateful day at the Target store in Lodi.
Mims, 57, a 24-year Lodi resident, met two of the Lodi firefighters and two paramedics from American Medical Response on Thursday — three days after that anniversary date — at AMR headquarters in Stockton.
It was a lovefest all around, with hugs being exchanged between Mims, her two sisters and the emergency personnel who gathered at the AMR office Thursday afternoon.
Wearing a bright red dress and looking like the picture of health, Mims brought a large, colorful fruit basket to Lodi Fire Capt. Brian Jungeblut and firefighter Todd Wagner, and to AMR paramedics Bent Jacobs and Chad Sibbett. To her surprise, Jacobs gave Mims a large bouquet of flowers.
"You guys didn't give up," Sharon Brown, Mims' sister, who is a registered nurse at Kaiser-Permanente, told the people who saved Mims' life.
"We call her 'Miracle,'" Brown said.
Miracle indeed. AMR spokesman David Durand said that AMR paramedics responded to 669 calls for cardiac arrest in 2008. Only four of them survived, at least enough to have a good quality of life, he said.
The Lodi firefighters and AMR paramedics were as happy to see Mims as she was to see them. They asked questions of each other about the heart attack, rescue efforts and how life has treated Mims in the past year.
Mims, who now has a pacemaker, wasn't given much of a chance to survive the heart attack, and in the slim event she did, doctors worried that she would have extensive brain damage. On Thursday, she talked eloquently.
Mims still doesn't recall what happened on Nov. 16, 2008, but she was on her way to Sunday school where she teaches at First Baptist Church on Mills Avenue.
Brown and her twin sister, Shirley Hackett, think that Mims stopped at Target on Kettleman Lane to get some cold medicine because she wasn't feeling well. She was in the restroom when she collapsed, Brown said. A customer, also in the restroom, heard a crashing noise, left the restroom and told an employee, who called 9-1-1.
"I have no memory at all of what happened," Mims said. "I don't know why I went to Target."
Jungeblut shed some light.
"We were dispatched to her feeling ill," he told Mims. "We walked in, and you were lying on the floor."
AMR paramedics revived Mims with a defibrillator before taking her to Lodi Memorial Hospital. Doctors thought she wouldn't make it through the night. Before the night was over, she was transferred to St. Joseph's Hospital in Stockton.
Mims was so critically ill that, except for a brief time, she was in a coma for three weeks. She caught pneumonia during that time.
"We were called in three different times during those three weeks because they thought she wouldn't make it," Hackett said.
After awaking from her coma, Mims told her sisters that her payment to the California Department of Motor Vehicles was due. Mims doesn't remember saying it.
Ever the optimist, Mims thought she was in the hospital for something minor and that she could return to her job shortly.
"I realized I was at St. Joseph's, but I didn't realize the magnitude of how serious it was," Mims said.
She recalled being asked several questions, most likely to determine how well her brain was functioning.
"I remember them asking me who the president was," Mims said.
She also recalls being nervous after answering "Barack Obama," because Obama had been elected at that time, but not yet inaugurated. "Oh no," she thought. The St. Joseph staff will think that she suffered dementia because she didn't answer "George W. Bush."
Judy Mims at a glanceBorn: 1952, raised in Anaheim.
Lodi resident: Since 1985.
Career: Taught in Lodi Unified School District. She has taught 11 years at John Muir Elementary School in North Stockton, nine years at Lakewood Elementary School in Lodi and previously at Claremont and Creekside elementary schools.
Church: Attends First Baptist Church in Lodi, where she teaches first-grade Sunday school and sings in the choir.
Family: Single, lives with her two dogs.
Source: Judy Mims
Thanks to the defibrillator saving her life, Mims and AMR staff are starting a campaign to have schools and stores equipped with the life-saving tool so that, if necessary, employees can revive heart attack victims before firefighters or paramedics arrive.
Durand said he will look into grant opportunities to acquire some defibrillators. AMR has donated more than 30 defibrillators throughout San Joaquin County. Recipients include the Lodi Unified School District, Stockton Arena, Banner Island Ballpark and rural fire districts, Durand said.
It was a long stage of rehabilitation, with both of Mims' sisters staying with her for seven months. Looking back, they think that Mims may have had congestive heart failure for several months before she had her heart attack.
It had been a stressful period for Mims before she suffered her heart attack. She was on jury trial, hearing about a week's testimony in a trial expected to last a month. She felt stressed about preparing lesson plans for her substitute teacher at John Muir Elementary School in North Stockton while she was on jury duty.
One recent exciting day for Mims was July 28, when she returned to her classroom, where she teaches a fifth-grade Gifted and Talented Education class.
Mims said she has a class of good students who don't cause her much stress, but she makes an extra effort to not subject herself to stress.
"If the papers don't get graded tonight, they don't get graded," she said.