Tracy Hjelle
Tracy Hjelle
Tracy Hjelle, Luther College softball pitching coach, was expected to be released from St. Mary's Hospital in Rochester, Minn. Wednesday, after she suffered a spontaneous coronary artery dissection (SCAD) while boarding a bus early Sunday morning for a game at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.

SCAD occurs when a split or separation suddenly develops between the layers of the wall of one of the blood vessels (artery) that provides blood flow to the heart, and may lead to heart attack, sudden cardiac arrest or other complications, according to the Mayo Clinic website.

The SCAD caused muscles in her heart to twitch (fibrillate) and she collapsed on the sidewalk in front of several team members.

CPR was performed for about seven minutes by Luther Head Trainer Kris Agena and catcher Kelsey Kittleson, a senior from St. Ansgar, and outfielder Shari Huber, a junior from Eldridge.

An AED defibrillator shocked her heart back into a normal rhythm. Paramedics stabilized her and transported her to Winneshiek Medical Center before being airlifted to St. Mary's Hospital in Rochester, Minn.

"With no symptoms or risk factors for heart problems, it's something of a miracle that the whole sequence of events happened in the presence of Luther College's head athletic trainer and medically inclined teammates, within 20 paces of an AED defibrillator, with people who know how to operate the defibrillator and the medical professional from Winneshiek Medical Center were able to stabilize and transport her to a world-class hospital, all within one hour," said John Hjelle, her husband.

Tracy Hjelle has a good prognosis, he said. She is experiencing issues with her short term memory, due to a concussion she suffered when her head hit the sidewalk. Her heart pumping efficiency is about half of what is considered normal, he said. She is expected to be back to normal cognition and heart function in 4-6 weeks.

"I am so thankful so many people played a role in saving my wife's life," Hjelle said. "There has been an overwhelming outpouring of concern from Luther and the Decorah community and many people have asked where to send flowers. Tracy loves flowers, as do I, but this is an opportunity to 'pay it forward' and we would ask that those concerned send a donation to Luther Development for the purchase of another AED defibrillator that will, one day, save another life."

While Sunday's softball game was canceled, the team played a double-header Tuesday at Wartburg. After sweeping the Knights 8-0 and 9-0, Luther secured the No. 1 seed for the Iowa Conference softball tournament.