Lifestyle & Human Interest

Doctor Nearly Dies, Twice. Only Alive Today Thanks to Kindness of Strangers


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After a harmless game of pick-up basketball, an aspiring orthopedic surgeon’s life was completely shaken when he suddenly died on the sidelines. Thanks to the quick actions of his now-wife, he was able to be revived and lived to tell the tale.

What’s even crazier is that he died again 26 years later in the Nashville airport and was revived by two strangers. Now the man who has escaped death twice is telling his story to share an important message.

Dr. Herman Williams had no idea just how instrumental his wife would be in his life when he first met her at the Boston University School of Medicine. He was pursuing a career in orthopedic surgery while she was working for the Dental School.

On April 28, 1991, Dr. Williams decided to play in a pick-up game of basketball. He and his now-wife were engaged and only months away from their September wedding.

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Jeannie and Dr. Herman Williams on their wedding day on Sept. 7, 1991. (Courtesy of Herman Williams)

During the game, Dr. Williams began to not feel well and sat on the sidelines next to his future wife, who was keeping score, to regain his composure, but soon the situation became much more serious.

In the middle of the chaotic energy from the game, she looked over.

“And she saw me slump over to the side and I just died right there. Right in front of her,” Dr. Williams told Liftable, a section of The Western Journal.

His friends performed CPR until the paramedics were able to revive him; he was eventually diagnosed with a rare heart disease called arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy.

The outside of Ravenna Eckstein Center in Seattle, Washington, where the first cardiac arrest occurred. (Courtesy of Herman Williams)

Someone with ARVC is more likely to suffer from ventricular arrhythmias, or irregular heartbeat patterns, which could lead to cardiac arrest, according to the Journal of Community Hospital Internal Medicine Perspectives.

That’s exactly what occurred on the sidelines in 1991. Dr. Williams suffered from a type of arrhythmia called ventricular fibrillation, which according to the Mayo Clinic, requires immediate medical attention.

If his wife hadn’t been there, he said, the other people who were paying attention to the game may not have noticed in time.

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He described this event as a huge shock.

“It took me a couple years to get myself back on my feet and to figure out a new career and new trajectory,” he told Liftable. “My wife was absolutely instrumental in that part of my life.”

Jeannie’s support was instrumental in Dr. Williams’ recovery. (Courtesy of Herman Williams)

He said that this experience helped him realize that the caregiver is just as important as the one suffering.

“Every time I got shocked, my wife was shocked. Every time I went to the ED, she basically went through the whole process emotionally and people forget to acknowledge the importance of the caregiver.”

During the next 26 years, Dr. Williams spent time with his wife, raised his now-23-year-old, found the right balance of medicine and pursued a new career in medical consulting without any other major heart health issues.

Jeannie, Cole and Dr. Herman Williams at Cole’s high school graduation. (Courtesy of Herman Williams)

“You’re always at risk, but to not have any problems for those many years you kinda feel like you’re cured, but you’re always at risk,” he said.

He received a stark reminder of the true condition of his heart while walking through the Nashville airport on May 15, 2017.

The arrhythmia came just as sudden as it did in 1991, but this time he was saved by a couple of strangers, later identified as Bill Mixon and Terrie Layne, according to The Tennessean.

Terrie Layne, Bill Mixon and Dr. Herman Williams at the Nashville Airport 8 months after they helped saved Dr. Williams life. (Courtesy of Herman Williams)

“I see this gentleman sitting in a chair, and I acknowledged him, saying ‘Hi, good morning, how are you doing?’” Dr. Williams told WECT. “And the last thing I heard was him saying, ‘Are you OK?’ I must have grabbed my heart, and then, I started to fall. This woman saw me, caught me and was able to gently lower me to the ground.”

What Dr. Williams finds truly amazing about both of these incidents is that bystander CPR played such a huge role in both of these incidents. The American Heart Association says, if administered correctly, CPR can double or triple the person’s chance of survival.

While this incident was less severe and Dr. Williams was able to adjust back to normal life pretty quickly afterward, he still relied on the emotional stability of his wife while he mourned what had happened.

These two events have dramatically shifted how he understands his purpose in life and, after others encouraged him to do so, he decided to write a book about it called “Clear: Living the Life You Didn’t Dream Of.”

Dr. Williams signing a copy of his book, “Clear: Living the Life You Didn’t Dream Of.” (Courtesy of Herman Williams)

“Life is very precious and relationships between people are really key to living, what I think, a fulfilled and happy life,” Dr. Williams told Liftable. “And so I set out to tell that story.”

Since publishing his book in 2017, he has been given the opportunity to speak at medical schools, universities and corporate events to share his incredible story.

Dr. Williams has been able to speak to multiple audiences to share his incredible story and outlook on life. (Courtesy of Herman Williams)

His biggest piece of advice to those who are just hearing his story for the first time is, “Don’t give up on yourself. Have faith.”

He also said that his experiences helped him realize how important perspective is during trying times.

“I could be very depressed now that I was never able to have a career as a surgeon. Or I could say ‘What a blessing I’m alive!’ I was able to be with my wife for the past 28 years and raise a 23-year-old son,” he said.

“It’s all about perspective.”

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Kayla has been a staff writer for The Western Journal since 2018.
Kayla Kunkel began writing for The Western Journal in 2018.
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