PITTSBURGH (KDKA-TV) — As KDKA-TV News Anchor Susan Koeppen returns to work this week, we’re sharing the story of why she’s been away since late November.

In the first installment, Ken Rice told the story of how Susan collapsed while running, went into cardiac arrest and likely owes her life to the strangers who stopped and performed CPR. Up next, a look at the challenges she still faces, as well as a pretty powerful lesson for all of us.

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These days, if it’s a Monday, Wednesday or Friday morning, you’ll find Susan in cardiac rehab.

“The nice thing about coming here is I can work out and I know somebody’s watching me; they’re monitoring me. I’m all hooked up; so, if they see something wacky on their computer, they can come over and help me, so I can push it a little bit here.”

Of course, pushing it – a lot – is what got her into trouble.

Two months ago, on a Sunday morning run with friends Susan’s heart stopped. Doctors blamed it on a faulty cardiac valve, compounded by exertion and dehydration.

To prevent a recurrence, doctors implanted a device that can detect an abnormal rhythm and deliver a shock.

“I named my defibrillator ‘Paramedic Pete,’” says Susan. “He’s on standby at all times, just in case something happens.”

After two weeks recovering at Shadyside Hospital, Susan went home in early December.

“And we’re closing the door on this part of our life,” said Jim O’Toole, Susan’s husband.

Waiting for her at home were her three young children – Baden, Regan and Declan.

“You know, I’m not supposed to be lifting anything more than five pounds,” said Susan while holding her son Declan. “You’re gonna make ‘Paramedic Pete’ go off in my chest.”

Along with her husband, Jim, they’re the reason she says it just couldn’t have been her time – at age 39 – to die.

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Watch Susan on Pittsburgh Today Live:

And think about what happened that morning that Susan collapsed on South Negley Avenue.

She could have been running alone, as she often did; but was instead with two friends; and who happened to drive up right after she fell? Two medical students who stopped and did CPR. It also happened just blocks from the nearest fire station, and almost within sight of Shadyside Hospital.

“Every link in the chain of survival was present from the very beginning,” said Lt. Dan Elias from the city’s Engine 8. “You had medically trained people that were right here; that recognized what was happening and made the appropriate calls to get people rolling.”

Ken Rice: “Seems like, if you change any one of those elements – maybe it’s a different story…”

Lt. Elias: “Had something not [been] here, we might be looking at a cross here rather than meeting Susan.”

Meeting Susan. That’s why – two months later – the people who save her life are standing outside in the cold back on Negley Avenue. Susan was coming, to try to express what no words could.

Through hugs, tears and thank yous.

“It’s gratifying for us to be able to sit here; for us to be able to see a good outcome,” said Lt. Elias.

For each of them, Susan brought a photo of her three kids. On the back of each picture, it says, “You saved my Mommy.”

“If I had died, it would have been OK with me, because I have lived a very full life, and when I went down that day, I had no fear, no pain. I was gone,” Susan said. “It would have been horrible for my babies to grow up without a mommy and horrible for my husband to be without a wife. So, the people who saved my life, saved my family… and gave them their mom and their wife back.”

The Red Cross is just one organization that offers CPR classes. Click here for a list of upcoming courses or visit RedCross.org for more.

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Susan Koeppen’s Story: The Gift Of Life (1/23/12)
KDKA-TV News Anchor Susan Koeppen Recovering (11/22/11)
About Susan Koeppen
More from KDKA Consumer Editor Susan Koeppen
Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (MedlinePlus.gov)
First Aid: Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation or CPR (MayoClinic.com)
First Aid, CPR & AED Classes (Southwestern Pennsylvania Chapter of the American Red Cross)