Most young married couples are preoccupied with choosing the furnishings for their new houses or discussing when to start having babies. Although you vow to love and support each other through thick and thin, you hope that life won’t throw too many curveballs that make you test that promise. For Oklahoma couple Ryan and Jill Finley, however, the bonds of their matrimony and their personal strengths were unexpectedly tested when a rare medical emergency occurred.
Finding himself treading new territory, Ryan Finley was forced to make the hardest decision of his life as his wife fell into a coma. Then, something completely unthinkable happened. You won’t want to miss this remarkable story, read on!
Like many young couples, Jones, Oklahoma residents Ryan and Jill Finley enjoy taking it easy on the weekends and relaxing around the house in each other’s company. On their days off, Ryan can be found leisurely sitting on the porch reading a newspaper.
As he enjoys the tranquil peace of the morning, he typically lets his wife sleep in. This was the case on one unassuming Sunday morning back in 2007. However, the day that had started in a customary fashion would soon take an unexpected turn that would forever affect their lives.
The Finleys had been married for four years by that point. Ryan, a plumbing contractor, was up to his usual weekend routine and didn’t think anything was out of the ordinary as his wife Jill, a loan underwriter, hadn’t woken up yet.
Rising from his customary porch perch, Ryan ventured back inside the couple’s home. Although he’s not exactly sure what spurred him, he had the unusual urge to go to the bedroom and wake up his slumbering wife. And, it’s lucky he did.
“I can’t tell you why, but I just felt that I wanted to wake her up that day.” But on the morning of Sunday, May 26, 2007, Ryan tried to wake his wife but she wouldn’t stir. Despite his frenetic attempts she still didn’t respond.
He tried yelling as loud as he could and even tried shaking her, but it was no avail. No matter what Ryan did, he couldn’t wake his wife. The situation became even more distressing when he noticed that Jill wasn’t breathing.
Trying to keep a clear mind while in crisis mode, Ryan sprang into action and immediately called 911. During the agonizing minutes that he waited for the ambulance, he took Jill from the bed and placed her on the floor where he performed CPR.
Fearing for his wife’s life, Ryan thought back to a CPR course he had fortunately taken a decade before – and never used since – doing all he could to try to resuscitate his wife until the paramedics arrived.
Ryan Finley recalls that “it felt like forever, it felt like hours,” until the ambulance arrived. It turns out that the emergency response team arrived at the house within about 15 minutes. The EMTs then took over as a distraught Ryan stood outside the bedroom hoping for the best.
The paramedics briskly produced a defibrillator and tried to revive Jill by administering a dose of electric shock currents to the heart. “I could actually hear the machine going,” Ryan said. “A thump and then the second thump. I heard Jill coming back down and hitting the wood floor.”
The paramedics determined that Jill needed additional, immediate care and rushed her in the ambulance to the Oklahoma Heart Hospital. Somehow, Ryan managed to get in his car and follow the vehicle with his wife to the hospital.
Jill was immediately taken to the ER, where the medical staff put her on a respirator. Seeing that she didn’t immediately come to, the doctors prepared to take other steps to try to save Jill’s life as she was on the brink.
As Ryan recalls, it took about 20 to 25 minutes to stabilize Jill enough to the point that doctors could further act. Bear in mind that amid all the traumatic frenzy, Ryan didn’t even know what had happened to his wife to cause her to be in such a state.
With every critical minute, the hospital staff moved to help as best as they could. Thanks to Ryan’s quick action, Jill eventually began breathing again and her heart was beating. However, things would soon take another turn and Ryan would be faced with a situation that no one can ever be fully prepared for.
At the hospital, it was determined that Jill had gone into cardiac arrest in her sleep and had been deprived of oxygen for nearly five minutes. Therefore doctors moved quickly to place her in a so-called “chill suit” and induce clinical hypothermia in an attempt to reduce the possibility of any brain damage.
Her body was wrapped in large cooling pads and treated with circulating cool water for 24 hours, lowing her body temperature to 90 degrees.”There [are] studies that have shown that it helps protect the brain in hopes that she will have a recovery,” said Dr. Michael Schoeffler, who treated Jill. All the while Ryan waited.
A day later, doctors started to warm Jill up. There were hopes that she would awaken during the process as some patients do. However, she didn’t. Subsequent tests revealed that she had little brain activity, but Ryan refused to give up hope.
At that point, Jill had fallen into a coma and the situation seemed all the more dire. Nonetheless, her hopeful husband devotedly stayed by her hospital bed refusing to leave her side no matter what anyone said.
Determined that his comatose wife would beat the odds, Ryan loyally kept her company and even saw to it to sleep at the hospital just in case she woke up. The committed husband remained attentive, reading verses from the Bible to his wife and often laying on the bed next to hers.
Unwilling to give up hope, the Ryan was persistent in his attempts to do anything he could for his wife and prayed that she would be alright. Days passed and doctors wouldn’t directly say that the situation was hopeless. They would only give Ryan one estimate.
“It was grim,” Ryan said. “I’ll put it that way. Everything they told me was grim.” Doctors were telling him that in such cases, there was only about a one percent chance of total recovery. Despite those narrow odds, Ryan wouldn’t accept that this could be the end.
With thoughts racing and emotions running, he took to praying with all his might and decided to keep a diary to comfort him during the ordeal. What he wrote revealed heartbreaking inner turmoil, but also a staunch determination to fight for the life of his wife.
“Every morning I’d wake up and I’d realize, this isn’t a dream,” Ryan wrote. As the days passed, he tried to keep his composure and remain hopeful during the living nightmare. “The doctors told me that there were never any signs that she was coming back. There wasn’t.”
He knew that even if she did pull through, there was a chance that she would remain in a vegetative state or otherwise not recover to a fully functioning state. With that in mind, he still wasn’t expecting what would happen next.
Although Jill’s friends and loved ones were trying to remain hopeful, 14 long days had passed and she was still in a coma. To make matters worse, it did not appear that her condition was improving at all.
As if it wasn’t hard enough to deal with the travesty, Ryan and Jill’s parents had to discuss what to do in light of the circumstances. That’s when at just 31-years-old, Ryan was posed with one of the hardest dilemmas of his life.
In front of Ryan Finley was the woman he loved. While the thought of life without her seemed unimaginable, he also knew that she wouldn’t want to live the rest of her in a hospital bed.
Ultimately, he had to decide whether to allow Jill to be taken off of life support. “Today could be the worst day of life. I essentially have to decide whether or not Jill will live or not. My soul mate. My everything,” he distraughtly wrote in his diary.
Although Ryan and Jill had not previously prepared an advanced healthcare directive or do-not-resuscitate orders, Ryan remembered what had transpired when his dear aunt had been hospitalized on life support a few years ago and what Jill had said after that experience.
Ryan was very close to his aunt and the ordeal was particularly sad for him. Thinking back to that plight, he recalled that Jill had said: “I would never want to live that way.” Meanwhile, the pressure was mounting as Ryan was told he needed to start making decisions.
After consulting with Jill’s family, Ryan eventually came to the conclusion that Jill wouldn’t want to spend the rest of her life bedridden. Painfully, he finally made the devastating decision to remove his comatose wife from life support.
Aided by Jill’s family, Ryan requested a court order that was needed to detach the feeding tubes from his wife. Looking back, Ryan said that it had been the hardest decision of his life “You don’t think when you’re 31 years old that you will have to be doing this with your wife that’s 32.”
At that point, doctors explained to Ryan what would happen after Jill was taken off life support. They explained that it wouldn’t happen immediately, during which people tend to demonstrate some reflexive movements or make some sounds in what is referred to as the “last rally.”
Although nothing can ever prepare you for such tragedy, Ryan and Jill’s family members reluctantly said their goodbyes. The doctors then took Jill off of life support. Ryan braced for the worst as his wife teetered on the brink of death, not at all expecting what would happen next.
On June 9, 2007, Jill Finley was removed from life support. “Her whole upper torso would just kind of shift a little bit. And then the mumbling would start,” he recalled. It was all too much for Ryan, however. “When that started, I left the room. I physically got sick,” he recalled.
The doctors had urged him to keep his expectations at bay, but he couldn’t have expected how hard it would be to anticipate that it was the beginning of the end. Hours had passed and the heavy-hearted Ryan didn’t know what to think when the nurses urged him to come quickly to Jill’s room.
It was around 11 p.m. and about five hours had passed since Jill was removed from life support. Ryan returned to sit to be by his wife’s side. It was then that she started mumbling and showing signs of what Ryan thought was the “last rally.”
“I thought that was it, that was the last rally,” he said looking back on the life-changing day. But as he tried to make out what she was saying, it was clear that something else was happening.
Suddenly she started moving and talking more coherently. “Get me out of here,” Ryan heard her say. But her requests didn’t end there. “Take me to Ted’s and take me to the Melting Pot,” she uttered naming two of her favorite Mexican restaurants.
Taking into consideration the doctor’s advice not to have his expectations too high, Ryan started asking her questions to make sure the words weren’t just a reflex. That’s when he realized that something unimaginable was happening.
Jill correctly answer all of her husband’s questions. “She knew our dog’s name, our cat’s name, our phone number. She knew our address immediately,” Ryan said. Incredibly, he managed to capture a video of the remarkable moments on his phone.
Mere minutes before, Ryan was coping with the idea that his wife might not be around anymore, but at this point, he knew one thing was for sure: that this wasn’t the last rally! In fact, what Jill was displaying was far from the last rally and the miraculous developments didn’t end there.
To everyone’s astonishment, it was clear that Jill was breathing and waking up from her coma HOURS AFTER she had been removed from life support. For her astonished husband, Ryan Finley, the moment was simply euphoric. “It was – I can’t imagine a feeling better than what I felt right then,” he gushed.
“I kind of had to take a double-take, and that went on for about 24 hours. I really couldn’t believe it was happening,” he exclaimed. “The two or three days prior I was preparing for the worst and the best happened. It was just like living in a dream for a day – then it hit me, ‘She’s back, dummy.’”
Jill Finley astonished both medical professionals and her loved ones when after just six days she made a miraculous recovery and was for the most part back to “normal.” “All the doctors say I’m not textbook material,” she later explained.
As is common among people who wake up from comas, Jill didn’t remember the events of the ordeal. “I do remember the big shower they wheeled me into every day. Other than that, I don’t remember anything.” Nonetheless, her thoughts on Ryan’s decision to pull the plug will pull at your heartstrings.
While some people might have been disheartened to find out that their spouse agreed to take them off life support, Jill Finley had a surprising response. After learning what had transpired during the two weeks that she was in a coma, Jill concluded that Ryan had made the right decision.
“I would not have wanted to live like that,” Jill said. “And so he did the right thing, he did. Because they basically told him that I was going to be a vegetable. I was going to be laying there in bed, you know, wearing diapers for the rest of my life and that’s just not me.”
It turned out that Jill had a congenital condition that caused her heart to stop during her sleep, leading to the coma. Doctors aren’t exactly sure what prompted her extraordinary recovery, but when reflecting on the miraculous turn of events, Jill has a simple answer.
She credits her husband and God for saving her life. “I honestly do believe that God answered the prayers.” Ryan wasn’t alone in his prayers, though, Jill recounted that “we had so many people praying for me – just tons of different churches, and family and friends.”
The Finleys and their families were counting their blessing and were tremendously thankful Jill’s recovery. For a few months after she woke up from the coma, though, her road to full recuperation included relearning many basic tasks like brushing her teeth, tying her shoes and cooking.
Surgeons implanted a pacemaker for her heart condition and she had to go to rehab, where she worked with occupational and speech therapists. No matter, the couple was tremendously thankful and walked away from the ordeal with a new outlook on things.
Not wanting to take any moment for granted, the couple is now always at each other’s sides. Not that the pair wasn’t close before, but following the eye-opening experience they have a renewed sense of appreciation for life and their relationship.
“It’s brought life to a whole new perspective, we look at each day so much differently now,” she said. “We just spend every minute that we can together — going to the grocery store now, we go together, go everywhere together.”
Working on her speech and dealing with some short-term memory loss in the immediate aftermath of her miraculous recovery seemed of little consequence to Jill. “Pretty much, I am normal,” the gracious coma survivor stated.
Looking on the bright side of the traumatic incident, the couple is even able to laugh about some of its effects. “One of our friends, [said], ‘I’m so jealous. You guys are like newlyweds,’” Jill said, chuckling in an interview with TODAY. Ryan also has been able to have a positive outlook.
Reflecting on the events of the emotion-ridden experience, Ryan said that he would do things the same if he had to again. “I think that’s only human nature,” he said. “But honestly, I wouldn’t change anything.”
In light of his heroic actions, Ryan Finley was later nominated for an Oklahoma Heart Hero Award, which the Oklahoma Heart Hospital gives in recognition of a local citizen who used CPR or an AED to save a fellow citizen’s life. Still, he hasn’t stopped looking out for his wife.
For those who are familiar with the story of Jill Finley’s astonishing recovery, the couple has been sure to note that they have visited the restaurants that she mentioned when she first started waking up from the coma.
Additionally, a concerned Ryan has a hilariously heartwarming tactic that he uses to make sure Jill is alright. “There’s still not a night that goes by that I don’t wake up,” he said. “I’ll usually kick her and if she kicks me back, I know we’re OK.”
Sources: ABC News, TODAY, Facing Life TV, Wikipedia, scribol.com, npr.org