Live Your Film

Maria’s 1-Year Cardiac Arrest Anniversary

by Maria Harper

maria in hospital unconscious

Maria was put in a temporary coma to help her body heal. Husband Tom and daughter Natalie kept a close watch.

One year ago today, on Aug. 18, 2013, I had a cardiac arrest and needed advanced life support and the whole medical 9 yards to survive. It happened after I had finished a 10-plus mile run. My friends and family had to tell me all about it, and recording the workout on Strava gave us more insight. To this day I don’t recall my run or arrest at all.

I blogged about my event a couple of months after the fact. Looking back, that blog was simply me trying to process and understand everything. It was full of medical jargon, dry and rote. I blame the propofol, ativan, morphine, haldol, dopamine and whatever else they had to run through my veins to keep me sedate but alive. It took months to get all of that out of my system and for me to feel like me again.

My friend Hillary wrote an emotional blog about what happened to me which tells the story of how serious my condition was. Even now, I still run into people who say they heard about my cardiac arrest and how they prayed for/thought of me. I know I never would have survived without the faith, love and support of all these people and especially my amazing family and friends.

So, what has changed?

There are a few questions that people always ask when they hear my story. Aside from “Did you see the light?” (no, I didn’t, or at least I don’t remember) people ask, “Are you different or feel different?” I am different in some ways, but mostly my approach to life is different. I’ve taken down some of my walls. My twin brother Mario put it best when he said, “She’s always been a spitfire, she just puts it out there now.”

I’ve adopted my friend Danielle’s motto “What’s the worst thing that could happen?”  if fear or trepidation start to determine the decisions I make. Kay Harmless, who was a great teacher, mentor and friend to all (and Hillary’s mom), said “Life is too short to be ordinary.” I try hard not to be ordinary!

eagle creek tri 2014

Maria helped a friend in the running portion of the Eagle Creek Triathlon (pacemaker keeping time) this summer.

The other thing people ask is “Do you still run?” When I say “YES!” I usually get a “You’re crazy” or something along those lines. I’m here to say it wasn’t the run that did it. In fact, not one of my doctors can give me a good reason as to why my cardiac arrest happened. My cardiac tests all came back clean. I do know that on an 80-plus degree sunny day, the only outdoor physical activity I should be doing is lifting my beverage while lounging on a boat, by the pool or at the beach. Exceptions to that: I will always go tubing (if I’m on Torch Lake in northern Michigan), and dancing. I will always dance.

So I continue my runs, and still often go solo, with minor changes:  someone always knows when and where I’m running, I use the Road ID phone app (, I avoid running in very hot or humid conditions. I’m grateful for every step of every run. I’m actually faster now than I was before, due to consistent running and some cross training. I never wonder if it will happen again, really, what’s the point in that? Anyway, I now have a handy pacemaker/defibrillator as a security blanket. (Which for my small frame is like giving me only half a boob job—but I digress). The most important change for me is how I live my film. From now on I won’t just watch things unfold, I’ll write and direct what happens too.

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