Denver woman recalls using CPR to save the life of her lightning-struck husband

Rebecca Hibshman's mom insisted she learn CPR


For four minutes, her husband's heart was in Rebecca Hibshman's hands.

Rebecca, her husband, A.J., and their daughter, Natania, had just left services at the Hebrew Educational Alliance in Denver on Sept. 26 when A.J. became a one-in-a-million statistic.

"I heard the lightning crack and it was just the loudest thing I had ever heard," Rebecca recalled. "Just an explosion of light -- orange and yellow light -- just surrounding the car."

The family was walking to their parked car in an overflow field next to the synagogue, when A.J. Hibshman was struck by lightning.

"I turned back to ask A.J. what had happened and then saw him on the ground," Rebecca said.

In the field, in a lightning storm, Rebecca's instincts kicked in.

"It's unimaginable what would happen if I had done nothing, and so in the moment I just needed to do something," said Rebecca.

"My mother insisted that everybody she met learn CPR. I feel so blessed that I had taken the classes, that my mother made me take the classes (and) that I had the knowledge," she said.

A.J. had stopped breathing, so Rebecca started CPR -- for four minutes, until the first fire truck and paramedics arrived.

"If you don't know what to do, you won't act. You're guaranteed not to do anything," Rebecca said. "I can't imagine what it would have been like if I didn't."

AJ Burned Over 15 Percent Of His Body

"It wiped a good deal of memory out," A.J. Hibshman said. "Probably not memories that I necessarily want to have. I actually don't remember much of earlier in the day even, until several days after."

A.J. was admitted to University of Colorado Hospital with burns over 15 percent of his body; on his thighs, abdomen and chest.

"Kind of looked like someone threw a can of paint on me, kind of all splattered across. All of the burns that I had have healed relatively nicely," A.J. said.

"I just have some work in relearning to walk and recovering from some nerve damage," he added. "I've gone from not walking, to a walker, to a cane, and hopefully soon I'll be off that and ready to get out."

Getting back to a closer sense of normal will not just be easier on A.J., but also his young daughter.

"(She) went from being scared of me when I had tubes hanging out of me in the hospital, to wondering why I wouldn't pick her up when she was crying at home," A.J. said. "Now she knows the cane is mine and she'll go get it for me."

Emergency crews are unsure if A.J. was hit directly by the lightning.

"There's a good possibility that it struck the car and then either went through the ground or jumped off the car," A.J. said.

"I remember that (Natania) was screaming. I remember that it was pouring. I didn't hear when the fire truck, the police and the paramedics came with all their sirens, so I think that I was pretty focused on A.J.," Rebecca said.

Only One In Three Bystanders Did CPR In 2011

Statistics compiled by Cardiac Arrest Registry to Enhance Survival (CARES), shows more than 14,400 cardiac arrests were witnessed by someone in 2011. In 5,300 cases -- about 37 percent -- a bystander initiated CPR.

"A lot of times, it'll be your family member, your neighbor, your friend that you may have the opportunity to save their life," said Dr. Christopher Colwell, head of emergency medicine at Denver Health Medical Center.

Colwell told 7NEWS that, statistically, cardiac arrest patients in Colorado have a high recovery rate once they're in the hospital, but the issue is teaching an everyday person the knowledge to do basic CPR.

"There's a certain period of time you have -- and we don't know what that period of time is exactly -- but it's probably in the range of four minutes, where you're going to start getting permanent damage," Colwell said.

"The most basic class, the most basic information can save a person that you love," Rebecca Hibshman said. "We went and both did a refresher before (Natania) was born."

"I am looking forward to a full recovery, but even if I don't, I'm thankful that I lived and that I get to hang out with my daughter," A.J. said.

Free CPR Classes Rare To Find

7NEWS checked the Denver-metro area for free CPR classes, but were unable to find any.

Colorado CPR offers full certification for $65. That class takes about four hours. Colorado CPR also offers an informational, hour-long course for about $25.

American Red Cross also offered CPR classes for $70. Though, there is a 20 percent discount offered through the end of January, using the holiday code HOLIDAY0113. Red Cross also offers a "hands only" CPR class, which does not teach breathing techniques, for $15.

"Training on CPR, the basic idea of it, doesn't take a lot of time. It is pumping on the right area of the chest -- which is right over the sternum -- hard enough to try to get the heart going, about 100-120 times a minute," Colwell said. "Pump hard and pump fast. You do need to push it almost to the point where you are worried about injuring somebody."

According to Rebecca, her husband's chest felt like the mannequin she practiced on.

AEDs Offer Resuscitation Alternative

Many public areas and businesses -- including 7NEWS -- now have Automated External Defibrillators (AED). They are devices that measure the heart's rhythm and determine if an electrical shock is necessary to reestablish a normal rhythm.

The device is computerized and walks the user through the process step-by-step.

"You can't harm anybody with AEDs," Colwell said.

According to Colwell, when most AED containers are opened, an automatic call to 911 is made because paramedics will be needed even if the AED delivers a shock.

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