Back From the Brink: 'I Want to Go Home'

Ryan Finley said goodbye to his wife, but she shocked everyone.

ByJOANNE NAPOLITANO and TRACIE HUNTE

Oct. 19, 2007 — -- On most weekends, Ryan Finley sits on the porch of his Jones, Okla., home and reads the newspaper while his wife, Jill, sleeps in. But one Saturday in May, Ryan decided to wake her up.

"I can't tell you why," Ryan said. "But I just felt that I wanted to wake her up that day."

But Jill wouldn't wake up that morning. The 31-year-old had gone into cardiac arrest in her sleep, and after she was rushed to the hospital, doctors said she had very little chance of recovery.

Ryan was suddenly faced with a tough decision — whether to take Jill off life support. He prepared to say goodbye to his young wife, but he wasn't prepared for what happened after the plug was pulled.

When he was unable to wake up Jill that morning, Ryan called 911. With the operator coaching him, he administered CPR until paramedics arrived. Ryan stood outside the bedroom door while they shocked Jill's heart.

"I could, I could actually hear the machine going," Ryan said. "A thump and then the second thump. I heard Jill coming back down and hitting the wood floor."

In an effort to preserve her brain function, doctors at Oklahoma Heart Hospital put Jill in what's called a "chill suit."

"We moved directly to this induced hypothermia, which is basically a refrigerated suit that we wrap around the torso and the legs to begin cooling her body core temperature down to about 33 degrees Celsius," said Dr. Michael Schoeffler, who treated Jill. "There [are] studies that have shown that it helps protect the brain in hopes that she will have a recovery."

Twenty-four hours later, doctors began to warm Jill's body. In some cases, patients have been known to wake up while being warmed, but Jill didn't. The situation was confirmed when tests performed on Jill's brain showed little activity.

"She fell into a category where there was probably a 1 percent — well, maybe give or take 1 percent — chance for being a functional person afterwards," Schoeffler said.

But Ryan would not give up hope. He slept at the hospital, finding comfort writing in his journal. He hoped and prayed his wife of four years would beat the odds.

"Every morning I'd wake up and I'd realize, this isn't a dream," Ryan said. "The doctors told me that there were never any signs that she was coming back. There wasn't."

After talking it over with Jill's parents, Ryan concluded that his wife wouldn't want to spend her life in a hospital bed, so with the help of her family he requested the court order to remove the feeding tube from his wife.

Ryan shared an entry in his diary from that day. "Today could be the worst day of life. I essentially have to decide whether or not Jill will live or not. My soul mate. My everything."

Doctors had prepared Ryan for the tiny movements and reflexes that often come when patients are unhooked, known as a "last rally." They were cautioning him against false hope.

"Her whole upper torso would just kind of shift a little bit. And then the mumbling would start," Ryan said.

"When that started, I left the room. I physically got sick," Ryan said. He thought this was the beginning of the end.

But about five hours later, something happened. "One of the nurses came and got me and told me, 'Ryan, I think you need to come back into the room,'" Ryan said. Amazingly, Jill was awake and talking.

Ryan remembers those first precious words: "[She said] 'Get me out of here. … I want to go home.' And then she started telling me she wanted to go get something to eat."

Ryan caught the moment with his cell phone camera.

"She knew our dog's name, our cat's name, our phone number. She knew our address immediately," Ryan said.

Today, Jill doesn't remember waking up and doctors are still not sure what happened or how she woke up. Jill says her explanation is "God."

"Honestly, I think God had a big part to play in it or he is the reason," Jill said. "He's the reason why I'm here today talking to you."

Jill has spent the last four months relearning how to do simple tasks like brushing her teeth, tying her shoelaces and learning how to cook.

"It was so frustrating because just brushing my teeth, even when I'd go to brush my teeth, my fine motor skills weren't all the best. And so I would get toothpaste all over my face," Jill said. "And then when I'd go to tie my shoe, I couldn't tie my shoe in a knot."

Ryan said that if he had a second chance, he would never change his actions. "I think that's only human nature. But honestly, I wouldn't change anything," Ryan said.

And Jill thinks he made the right decision as well.

"I would not have wanted to live like that," Jill said. "And so he did the right thing, he did. Because they basically told him that I was going to be a vegetable. I was going to be laying there in bed, you know, wearing diapers for the rest of my life and that's just not me."

Today, the couple spend their time counting their blessings.

"There's still not a night that goes by that I don't wake up," Ryan said. "I'll usually kick her and if she kicks me back, I know we're OK."

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