Former tennis star touted CPR, AEDs for 9 years before they saved his life
A year ago, Murphy Jensen went into cardiac arrest during a friendly competition against his brother
By Jaime Aron
American Heart Association News
Murphy Jensen looked across the tennis court and smiled – a joyful, mischievous grin.
At 6-foot-5, with a smooth face and scalp, the bright flash of his teeth radiated warmth and happiness. No surprise there; delight is his default setting.
It was the eve of his 53rd birthday and he was playing a mixed doubles exhibition against his big brother, Luke. It was a friendly competition, but it had the feel of a competition nonetheless – which makes sense considering their history.
As doubles partners, they once electrified tennis. With long blonde hair, loud clothes and flying chest bump celebrations, they won the 1993 French Open and soared into mainstream fame.
Years later, they still draw a crowd. And Murphy still hits the ball wickedly hard.
As he loaded up to serve, Luke focused on Murphy's eyes, gauging where Murphy was aiming.
Instead, Luke saw the strangest thing.
Murphy tossed the ball in the air, then closed his eyes.
The ball dropped and Murphy remained frozen, eyes still shut.
Then he toppled backward. He went down like a tree, the back of his head slamming into the court. He was in cardiac arrest. His heart had stopped.
Murphy survived because people trained in CPR were courtside, as was an automated external defibrillator, or AED, which shocks the heart back into rhythm. What's known among emergency responders as the chain of survival played out to perfection.
That was Oct. 29, 2021.
In celebration of Murphy's first "re-birthday," as cardiac arrest survivors call it, he's sharing his story to inspire more people to learn CPR and how to use an AED.
One of the fascinating twists to this tale is that for the nine years before his cardiac arrest, Murphy touted CPR and AEDs as the lead ambassador for the Steven M. Gootter Foundation. He did it simply because he was awed by the numbers: While nearly 1,000 people per day go into cardiac arrest during ordinary activities, less than 10% survive, mainly because such few people receive immediate CPR. Those who get CPR immediately are two to three times as likely to survive.
Now that Murphy is a living example of what's possible, the organization has expanded its mission.
Its new aim: Wherever there's a tennis court, there should be an AED.
And its new name: The Gootter-Jensen Foundation.
"I'm very aware of the gift I was given by these great doctors, nurses and first responders," Murphy said. "I'm going to use that gift to the best of my ability."
In the 18 minutes between Murphy falling and paramedics arriving, he received continuous CPR and four AED shocks from bystanders who happened to be off-duty medical professionals.
On the way to the hospital, he received two more shocks. His heart rhythm stabilized. The top priority shifted to his brain, which had been deprived of oxygen and traumatized by the fall.
Doctors put him into a coma to create a gentle healing environment. Five days later, he awoke with no brain damage.
Before leaving the hospital, Murphy received an implantable cardioverter defibrillator, or ICD, which is essentially an internal AED. If the ICD detects a problem, it will correct it within seconds.
Murphy's heart story began in 2004.
He caught a virus and, apparently, that virus infected his heart and activated his body's immune system. He developed myocarditis, which led to an enlarged heart (viral cardiomyopathy), which led to severe heart failure (when the heart doesn't effectively pump blood to the body). Although he made a full recovery, the episode left microscopic scars within his heart muscle.
He later developed an irregular heart rhythm – a glitch in the electrical system – called atrial fibrillation, or AFib. He underwent many procedures to restore a regular rhythm.
During the exhibition match, he had ventricular fibrillation.
VFib is an irregular heart rhythm, like AFib. But there's a major difference. AFib causes herky-jerky pumping of blood from the atria into the ventricles, whereas VFib causes the ventricles to stop pumping blood to the body. Thus his cardiac arrest.
It would seem there's a domino effect with these conditions. Not necessarily.
"It's more like a spoke-and-wheel thing," said Dr. Melissa Robinson, Murphy's electrophysiologist.
"Myocarditis is at the center. Everything else is a spoke coming off it. It's quite a medical story."
Murphy arrived home after his cardiac arrest hardly able to walk a quarter mile.
He was sensitive to noise and light, lingering symptoms from a concussion caused by the collapse. He hit the ground so hard that he's now nearly deaf in his left ear. He also fractured his skull in five places and cracked four teeth.
He tried pushing through. Enough people told him to take a "time out" that he reluctantly did. He took months off from his job at WEconnect Health Management, an app he co-founded in 2014 that provides
resources, services and support for anyone curious about recovery from substance use disorder. (Murphy has been in long-term recovery since 2006.)
Physically, he bounced back quickly. A typical day includes running, swimming, cycling, lifting weights and – yes, and – playing tennis. Add in a heart-healthy diet, and it explains why he's down to 4% body fat and considers himself in the best shape of his life.
Cognitively and emotionally, moving on has been more difficult.
Murphy's past addiction to drugs and alcohol stemmed from insecurity and self-loathing. He's worked on his mental health for years and has needed more therapy after his cardiac arrest.
He realizes how fortunate he is.
He struggles with guilt, overwhelmed by what his loved ones endured. Aftershocks continue, too. His 4-year-old son, Duke, associates tennis and sirens with Daddy getting hurt. Luke left his job at the resort where they were playing doubles, unable to shake visions of Murphy nearly dying.
Awareness about CPR and AEDs is the main takeaway from Murphy's story.
But there's a larger message. It's about overcoming.
While Murphy is a one-of-a-kind guy with a one-of-a-kind tale, his saga is rooted in something universal: Everyone is dealing with something. And unless it's as visible as a bloody knee or broken arm, we probably have no idea what anyone else is going through.
So to anyone facing anything, Murphy wants to offer hope. He wants to serve as an inspiration.
"It's about one word, man: L-O-V-E," Murphy said. "Love is the answer to all things. Love is everything, period."
Stories From the Heart chronicles the inspiring journeys of heart disease and stroke survivors, caregivers and advocates.
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