CHICAGO — On the cusp of graduation from Illinois State University, Kevin Hutchinson went out with friends in late April to unwind after a long day of classes.
He ran into a friend, Macy Orrick, and headed back to her off-campus apartment in Normal to hang out with her and her two roommates. Then the night took a life-or-death turn.
“Almost mid-conversation, (Kevin) just fell to the ground,” Orrick said. “In the moment, for some reason, I thought it was a weird joke and then I got down to him and realized he was having trouble breathing.”
Hutchinson, 22, was born with a congenital heart defect that has required four open-heart surgeries throughout his life. But despite the countless doctor’s appointments and precautions to safeguard his health, he didn’t realize on April 22 that he had been in heart failure for months before he collapsed.
“I didn’t feel like anything was off,” he said. “I remember texting my friends before it happened.”
Hutchinson said he blacked out and has no memory of what happened that night. But Orrick said his skin turned blue and clammy and his eyes turned yellow. She screamed to her roommates to call 911. One of them, Sam Bates, was first to get through to an emergency dispatcher, who told them what to do.
With the guidance of the operator, Bates flipped Hutchinson onto his back, held his head upright and tilted it back to open his airway. Taylor Karey started chest compressions.
Paramedics got to the apartment around 1 a.m., according to a police report, and found Hutchinson unresponsive. They took over performing chest compressions and hooked him up to an automated external defibrillator. Hutchinson was transferred to Advocate BroMenn Medical Center in Normal.
Karey, 22, said she previously had been certified in CPR and relied on that knowledge.
“When you’re training, they show you videos and the videos try to replicate a real scenario,” she said. “But now, looking back at it, it’s different in real life.”
Bates, 21, said practicing on a CPR manikin was very different from how it felt to help a close friend.
“You feel more helpless when it’s someone you want to survive and who you care about immensely and you just have no idea what to do,” Bates said.
Sandy Hutchinson, Kevin’s mom, was asleep in her New Lenox home when she was awakened by a phone call from Bates.
“I just knew if it was our moms, they’d want to know what was happening with their baby,” Bates said.
Kevin Hutchinson’s parents immediately got in their car and headed toward BroMenn.
“I couldn’t even keep my thoughts straight,” Sandy Hutchinson recalled. Almost two hours into the car ride, she received another call informing her that her son, who was in critical but stable condition, was being airlifted to Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn. They changed course.
“I was in shock, I was terrified. It’s your worst nightmare coming true. Being so far away, you just want to get there and see him,” she said.
At Christ, Sandy Hutchinson remembers not being able to talk and only crying. When she finally saw her son, she was relieved he was alive. Kevin Hutchinson regained consciousness about 11 a.m. the next morning.
“I remember waking up and watching my mom look at me while I was in the hospital,” he said.
Sandy Hutchinson said she was concerned about his short-term memory loss.
“He was very confused,” she said. “He kept asking the same couple of questions and asking why he was there. We were extremely concerned, but he recognized us and he knew who we were.”
Kevin Hutchinson spent more than a week in the hospital undergoing treatment with a heart failure team before recovering at home in New Lenox. He received a pacemaker and an implantable cardioverter defibrillator.
He was able to receive an exemption during his final exams and is getting a degree in finance. The ceremony is planned Saturday.
“You can’t even imagine how much I am going to cry that day,” Sandy Hutchinson said. For her son’s survival she credits his friends for reacting immediately and performing CPR.
“If those girls did not know CPR and hadn’t kept their wits about them, he wouldn’t be alive,” she said. “It was the CPR that kept him alive long enough to get care.”
The road ahead is filled with monitoring, medicines and lifestyle changes, Kevin Hutchinson said. He has since started a low-sodium diet and will no longer consume alcohol.
“It’s not that bad, it’s just a lot of small things and I have to take it slow but I’m trying to make this the new normal,” he said. “I’m a positive person. I’m just happy to be here.”