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Susan’s Story: 1 Year Later, It’s Become Your Story, Too

(Photo Credit: KDKA)

(Photo Credit: KDKA)

(Source: KDKA-TV) Ken Rice
A nationally award-winning journalist, Ken Rice co-anchors the...
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PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — It’s been a remarkable year for KDKA-TV News Anchor Susan Koeppen.

Last Nov. 20, while out running with friends, she collapsed on the street – a victim of sudden cardiac arrest. We’ve shared the story of the strangers who stepped in and saved her life.

But a year later, there’s more to tell.

This isn’t just Susan’s story anymore.

Now, it’s your story.

First thing you should know is, Susan has recovered beautifully.

After she collapsed that Sunday morning, doctors knew she would need surgery to repair a heart valve. The operation this past spring was a complete success, and Susan’s now back to doing what she was doing one year ago – training to run a half-marathon.

“Not to sound totally corny,” she says, “but sometimes I actually get teary-eyed when I’m out running because I think to myself, this is so amazing, and I’m so happy to be here.”

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susan ken Susan’s Story: 1 Year Later, It’s Become Your Story, Too

At home with her husband and three young children, she says what happened a year ago doesn’t come up often. But, it’s not as if it’s been forgotten either.

Says Susan: “My 3-year-old said to me the other day, ‘Hey mommy, do you remember when you dropped dead?’ And I said, ‘Yes.’ And he said, ‘I didn’t like that.’”

“I feel like I survived for a reason,” Susan says, “ to be with my family, but also to talk to people about their hearts, and to talk to people about the importance of learning CPR.”

And over the past year, we know you’ve been hearing the message.

To cite one example, Brianne Cassidy of the South Side wrote to KDKA last fall to say, “Let Susan know her crusade to get people certified for CPR saved at least one more life! We were very touched by her story and because of her, I got certified recently.”

Not long after, Cassidy says she came upon a man down on the sidewalk, his family yelling for help. She says there was no time to hesitate. She put her new skills to the test.

“I was on top of him and pushing really hard and I kind of surprised myself that way, that I had the power to do it,” she says.

The man was breathing again when paramedics took him to the hospital.

Someone else whose life has changed this past year is Vanessa Franco. She’s one of the two Pitt medical students who found Susan on the sidewalk one year ago and performed CPR.

Says Franco, “Susan helped motivate me to start a research project studying how the heart reacts to exercise and specifically endurance exercise.”

Last spring, Franco recruited 10 volunteers running the Pittsburgh Marathon to help her gather data. She had them wired up, to monitor their hearts while they were running.

“Very few studies have been done at this point looking at the heart activity throughout and seeing what changes are actually occurring that might or might not increase your risk or decrease your risk of having a cardiac event while you’re exercising,” says Franco.

It should surprise no one that Susan Koeppen, alive because of Franco’s quick-thinking and fast action last Nov. 20, is Vanessa Franco’s biggest fan.

“She’s going to be a phenomenal doctor,” says Susan. “She’s going to excel at anything she does.”

And Susan runs on toward that goal that was interrupted last year – completing a half-marathon – and toward her new goal: Getting the message out about the skills that can save a life.

“I’m going to try… as many people as I can tell: Learn CPR, you can save somebody’s life,” she says. “Know how to use an AED (automatic external defibrillator), it can save somebody’s life.

“I’m on a mission.”

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