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Dignity Health East Valley nurse reunites with cyclist she helped revive after massive heart attack

(Chandler, AZ – Aug. 31, 2023) – A great-grandfather says he is lucky to be alive thanks to the quick actions of an off-duty Dignity Health Chandler Regional Medical Center trauma ICU nurse who jumped in to save his life after he suffered a massive heart attack on his way home from a long distance bike ride. Robert Durling, of Queen Creek, recently had the chance to reunite with Courtney Johnson - the nurse who helped revive him - while recovering at Dignity Health Mercy Gilbert Medical Center.

“Courtney is my guardian angel,” said Durling. “I am so grateful that she was in the right place at the right time. I am alive today because of her and the other first responders who were there when I needed them the most.”

For years, Durling has spent his mornings riding at least 30 miles around the East Valley on his bicycle. Sunday, Aug.6 was no exception. The 69-year-old had just loaded his bike into his vehicle and was driving home when he suffered a heart attack while waiting at a stoplight near Lindsay and Queen Creek Roads.

As fate would have it, Johnson was pulling up to the same intersection after completing her overnight shift in Chandler Regional’s trauma ICU. She saw that Durling’s car had veered across traffic and rolled onto the curb. A man was banging on Durling’s window, and Johnson knew something was seriously wrong. So, she jumped into action.

“I ran over to his car, looked inside and saw Robert unresponsive and slumped over against the window,” said Johnson. “Some good Samaritans helped me break his window and pull him out of the car. That’s when I realized he didn’t have a pulse.”

While still in her scrubs from the night before, Johnson immediately started performing CPR on Durling and instructed another bystander to call for help. When first responders with Gilbert Fire & Rescue arrived, Johnson had performed more than three rounds of CPR, which kept blood flowing through Durling’s body, delivering oxygen to his brain and other organs.

"We always strive to provide the highest level of care and treatment to the people working, living, and traveling through Gilbert," said Gilbert Fire & Rescue Deputy Chief, Michael Riley. "Our department regularly collaborates with Dignity Health East Valley on trainings and community outreach opportunities; however, this was a unique experience where we worked together in the field to provide the highest level of care for this individual in their time of crisis. We are grateful for their team and continued partnership as we work towards a healthier and safer community."

When Durling arrived at Mercy Gilbert’s emergency room, he was in full cardiac arrest. A series of tests were conducted and doctors found that his carotid artery was 99 percent blocked. He underwent a series of procedures including a blood clot cauterization, and the implantation of a cardiac stent and defibrillator to help monitor his heart moving forward. Amazingly, Durling didn’t suffer any brain damage or other serious complications from this near-deadly heart attack.

“As I recovered in the hospital, my family and I were desperate to find the nurse who saved my life at the scene,” said Durling, who is a father of two, grandfather of 10, great-grandfather to a little boy with another great-grandchild on the way. “All we knew was her name, and that she was wearing Dignity Health scrubs. So, we asked my nurses at Mercy Gilbert if they could help us track her down.”

The stars aligned again two days later. Durling, alongside his wife and daughter, reunited with Johnson in his hospital room, and his family was able to thank the woman who saved his life that early Sunday morning.

“It was incredibly emotional to see Robert again, this time with the reassurance that he is going to make a full recovery,” said Johnson. “For days, I had been praying that he was alive, and it was just a thrill to see that something I did out of instinct is keeping a family together. It’s a huge honor and blessing to be considered someone’s guardian angel.”

“I can’t thank Courtney enough for saving my life,” said Durling. “My kids and grandkids joined our reunion via FaceTime and we all had a chance to say thank you to the woman who saved me. I am so grateful to the doctors, nurses and first responders who are the reason I’m alive.”

Durling has since been discharged from the hospital and is recovering at home. He’s under doctor’s orders to take things slow, and Durling says he is excited to get back on his bike.


Media Contact: Abby Kay | [email protected] | 602-406-4734

Publish date: 

Thursday, August 31, 2023