John Ogburn doesn’t remember a single thing about Monday, June 26, 2017. He doesn’t remember waking up that morning, or helping prepare breakfast for his three young children, or kissing his wife, Sarabeth Ogburn, goodbye. He doesn’t remember driving to a Panera Bread in Charlotte, North Carolina, or going to his favorite booth in the back, where he regularly sat, working on his laptop. And he doesn’t remember crumpling to the floor at about 4:15 p.m., his heart having gone completely, terrifyingly still.
April Bradley was just starting her shift at Panera when her brother told her someone had passed out in the back of the restaurant. When they got to John, he was splayed on the carpet. His face was dark purple. “It was the scariest thing I’ve ever seen,” Bradley says. She dialed 911. It was 4:17 p.m.
As luck would have it, Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer Lawrence Guiler was about 50 feet away. He had just tended to a minor accident and was about to get back on the road. Another lucky stroke: Before joining the police, he had been an EMT.
Guiler arrived at Panera in less than a minute and began CPR. Within 30 seconds, another police officer, Nikolina Bajic, rushed in. “Coincidentally, I was already dispatched to a second accident in the same parking lot,” Bajic says. A few minutes later, four Charlotte firefighters arrived, opened John’s airway, and fitted him with an oxygen mask. They took turns performing CPR. They also used a defibrillator to try to shock his heart into restarting. It didn’t.
They shocked him again. And again. And again. They gave him a shot of epinephrine to return his heart to a normal rhythm. Then another. Then another. Nothing. No sign of life. More than 20 minutes had gone by.
“Nobody wanted to give up on him,” says Bajic.
Around 4:30 p.m., while John was receiving CPR from a total of eight first responders, his iPhone started ringing. It was his wife. “I called a couple times, but he didn’t answer,” Sarabeth says. “I assumed he was in a meeting.”
A little over an hour later, she was heading to her parents’ for dinner with the couple’s three children when Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center called. She was told John had gone into cardiac arrest. Know these warning signs that you may be about to go into cardiac arrest.
“It was terrifying,” she says. “When I got there, I was taken into a room with two police officers, ER doctors, nurses, and clergy. Basically, they said, ‘We don’t know what’s gonna happen.’”
Someone informed her that John had received CPR for 38 minutes before they established a pulse; the police estimate it at more (45). In any event, it was a long time. “Generally, after 30 minutes you start thinking, When should we call this?” says Amy McLaughlin, MD, the first physician to examine John.
He was transported to the intensive care unit and sedated in hopes of giving his body time to recover. Two days later—on his 36th birthday, in fact—he started to wake up.
“He squeezed my hand,” Sarabeth says. “I wasn’t sure if I would ever have that again.”
Astonishingly, the only aftereffects were some short-term memory loss and an extremely sore chest from the 3,500 compressions. “Not many people make it out of that situation,” Guiler says. “Seeing that he made a full recovery is—I can’t even explain it.”
Adds Dr. McLaughlin: “Everything that could go right for him did.”