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Daughter saves dad’s life with CPR during heart attack brought on by snow-blowing

Earl Heen (center) and his granddaughter Hannah Murphy and daughter Bethany Murphy. Bentany performed CPR on her father while Hannah waited outside barefoot in the snow for the ambulance. JOHN STENNES/GRAND FORKS HERALD1 / 2
Bethany Murphy saved her father Earl Heen's life when she performed CPR on him after he had a heart attack earlier this spring. Murphy had just weeks earlier had taken a refresher course in CPR to fulfill a requirement for her job. JOHN STENNES/GRAND FORKS HERALD2 / 2

Bethany Murphy’s instincts — and CPR training — kicked into high gear when she realized her dad was not nodding off in his chair after snow-blowing.

He was having a heart attack.

“He was completely blue,” she said.

On April Fools’ Day, Earl Heen, 67, of Grand Forks, had cleared his roof and around his house of the foot of snow that a blizzard had dumped on Grand Forks the day before. He’d just settled into a chair on his back deck. Bethany had arrived with her daughter, Hannah, 8, to pick up her son, Earl, 2. Schools were closed that day.   

“My mom had said, ‘Be back by 2 o’clock,’ ” she said. “I’m someone who’s always a half-hour or 45 minutes late.”

But this day, she arrived at 2:01, she said. 

No joke

Within a few minutes, her father made a snoring sound, and his head dropped back. Bethany asked if he was tired from snow-blowing. He didn’t respond.

For a split second, his wife, Helen, thought he was having a diabetic reaction because he had not eaten lunch, she said.   

“I grabbed his face and said, ‘If this is some kind of April Fools’ joke, it’s not funny,’ ” Helen said.

“He wasn’t breathing, had no pulse and was totally blue,” she said. “His skin was cold, his tongue was out of the right side of his mouth, and his eyes were rolled back in his head.”

Bethany sprung into action, operating “from instinct and my gut,” she said. She told her mother to call 911 as they ran for a bottle of Earl’s nitroglycerin pills, which they couldn’t find.

Seconds later, on the deck, “with my left arm, I cradled my 250-pound dad” and lowered him to the deck, Bethany said.

She started chest compressions and gave him a couple of breaths mouth-to-mouth. She told Hannah to keep “little Earl” in the house and watch for the ambulance.

Hannah waited outside, barefoot, Helen said.

Critical compressions  

Bethany performed CPR until an ambulance arrived about five minutes later. It was the first time she had used the training, she said.    

As she worked on him, “I kept telling him, ‘You’re not leaving me. You’re not going yet, Dad,’ ” she said. “I wasn’t going to let him go.”

When she heard his ribs crack from the force of the compressions, “I knew I was doing it right.”

Later, medical personnel told the family that Earl’s heart stopped five times on the way to the hospital, Helen said. “They said he more than likely would not have made it if it wasn’t for Bethany’s quick action.

“They said it was a major heart attack, and it would have happened in a day, a week or soon,” but that the snow-blowing caused it.    


Several coincidences that eventually led to Earl’s recovery “are just mind-blowing,” Helen said. “We just cannot get out of our minds how all things worked out.”

If school had been in session, Bethany would have been working out at the fitness center, as is her habit, Helen said.

Most days, Helen works in her home office, where she runs a printing and graphics business, and Earl, who’s retired, tinkers in the garage, Helen said. “I never check on him.” 

If Bethany had not arrived when she did, Earl “would have walked into the garage after doing the snow,” she said. “I would have wondered, probably after a couple hours, why he hadn’t come in and would have found him — gone.”

Helen doesn’t know why she told Bethany to be back by 2, she said. “There was nothing we had to do, nowhere to go.”

The nitroglycerin pill bottle was always in the same place, but they didn’t see them, Helen said. The bottle was found later, tipped over in the dark recesses of the shelf — too far in to spot.

“We would have maybe wasted time shoving pills under his tongue,” Helen said, “and the paramedics said they would not have done one bit of good.”

Two weeks before her father’s heart attack, Bethany had taken a refresher course in cardiopulmonary resuscitation to fulfill requirements of her paraprofessional educator job at Valley Middle School in Grand Forks. The only other training she’d had was eight years ago.

During the one-hour course, “the only question I had was, ‘Can you do this on someone who’s had bypass surgery?’ ” Bethany said. (Her father had had quadruple bypass surgery in August 2012.) The answer was yes.

Bethany learned, too, that compressions are more important than mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, she said.          

Only an hour before, a neighbor had blown out the Heens’ driveway, making it easier for the ambulance crew to get in and get Earl out, Helen said.

She and Bethany praised Hannah for “standing barefoot out in the snow and waving down” the ambulance driver.

‘Saved your daddy’s life’

An Altru Health System paramedic who visited Earl in the hospital told the family that “with someone in as bad a shape as Earl was, that this is the first time he has been able to visit that person alive,” Helen said.

“Then, he pointed to Bethany and said, ‘You, little lady, saved your daddy’s life.’ ”

Before the heart attack, Earl had no pain, he said, and now remembers nothing of that day. At the hospital, he underwent a procedure to clear blockage and insert stents in the heart.

Earl is doing “unbelievably well after what he’s gone through,” Bethany said. “We’re so blessed and so thankful.”

His family told him that, when he was regaining consciousness April 2, “he said, ‘Did I go to heaven? I saw my mom,’ ” Bethany said. His mother died seven years ago.        

Earl said his daughter’s quick response didn’t surprise him. “She’s always worried about me. If something needs to be done, she’s right there.”

He was released from Altru on April 4 and is anxious to start planting the flowers, melons and vegetables he’s started under grow-lights at home.

“I’ve got a lot of gardening to do,” he said, “and only a month to rest.” 

Since the event that nearly took her father’s life, Bethany has become an advocate for CPR, she said. “I want everyone to learn CPR. You never know when you’re going to have to use it.

“When you’re able to save someone’s life, there’s no better gift than that.”

Helen said, “It was the most horrifying thing we all have been through,” and she is scared that it may recur.

“I will be so nervous when he goes to the garage, in the car, out to get gas or groceries. …

But we can’t let this run our lives, and we have to remember that God will protect him just as he did on April 1 … by putting everyone in the right place at the right time.

“It was a true miracle.”