Owen Conner doesn't remember much about the night he clinically died — July 25, 2017. His mother and other people who were there have filled in the missing pieces. She found her son lifeless in bed at their Statesville home when he went into sudden cardiac arrest. Conner knows about how his family, firefighters and paramedics never gave up on CPR, even as his heart stopped beating a second time. Six months later, he thinks of that night as a blessing in disguise. If he had never suffered cardiac arrest, he may have missed another miracle.
Road to Recovery
Before his cardiac arrest, Conner admits he wasn't taking care of himself or his heart as well as he should have.
"I was not taking my blood pressure medicine," said Conner. "I've had high blood pressure since I was 18 but I wasn't doing what I was supposed to do. I was hard-headed. Cardiac arrest was my wakeup call."
Conner spent eight days on life support at Iredell Memorial Hospital. Now he's back at the hospital every week for cardiac rehabilitation. You can find him on the treadmill, learning about nutrition and stress management, and probably cracking jokes.
"I'm the class clown," Conner laughed. "I make my presence known when I come to rehab."
The cardiac rehabilitation program provides education, exercise and diet help, and emotional support for heart attack or heart failure patients. It can also help patients prepare for or recover from procedures including angioplasty, valve replacement, heart transplant, and bypass surgery. For Conner, rehabilitation is making his heart stronger.
"My heart, when I had my cardiac arrest, was functioning at 25 percent," said Conner. "Now I think it's over 40 percent. I have more energy than I used to have. At first, my cardiologist said I would need a defibrillator implanted after I got out of the hospital. Now I don't need that anymore, thanks to cardiac rehab."
A New Challenge
After that night in July, Conner was feeling soreness from the thousands of chest compressions during CPR. A CAT scan revealed exactly what was causing the pain, and something else that was unexpected.
"The doctor said 'we have good news and bad news,'" Conner recalled. "'The good news is your ribs are broken. The bad news is, there's a mass on your right kidney.' So, they stumbled up on it."
The mass turned out to be kidney cancer. Conner will have surgery to remove the diseased organ in March.
"Mom said it was like a blessing because I would have never known about my kidney cancer if I never had the cardiac arrest," said Conner. "I thank the Lord for that."
Despite this setback, Conner is focused on the silver linings.
"I gotta stay positive. When the good Lord is ready for me, he'll take me. The cancer right now, the way it's looking, they can take the kidney and I'll be fine. It hasn't spread to my left kidney."
Conner is sticking to cardiac rehabilitation as he prepares for surgery. He says he is grateful to everyone who has helped him so far. He's glad he's still around for his daughter and four-year-old granddaughter.
"I try to live every day to the fullest because any of us could be gone in an instant," said Conner. "I feel like I'm here for a reason."