February 21 2018
Karen Lyons started running to escape hardship–and couldn’t stop.
When I was working 100-hour weeks as a surgical resident at Stanford University, I longed for an outlet to keep fit and refocus my mind. Growing up, I played tennis and practiced tae kwon do, but I could no longer squeeze them into my busy schedule. So, I grabbed my running shoes and hit the pavement.
I started running longer and longer distances and soon my hard training paid off when I crossed the finish line of my first marathon. I had no idea at the time that this same training would later save my life.
When I was pregnant with my daughter, I developed acute fatty liver of pregnancy—a very rare and often fatal condition that can cause organ failure during delivery. My water broke unexpectedly six weeks before my due date, and I rushed to the hospital for what would become the most trying day of my life.
After 18 hours of labor, my daughter’s vital signs started to deteriorate. I was either going to have to go deliver the hard way, or to go under a crash C-section, risking death by internal bleeding. I pushed with every ounce of strength I could muster and miraculously gave birth. I’m convinced that had I not known the feeling of making it through a marathon, I would not have been able to dig in deep enough to give that last kick at the 26th mile of my delivery.
It was a tough recovery, but I fought hard to get back into shape to compete in the Los Angeles Marathon less than a year later. This race would present a miraculous challenge of a different kind. At mile 18, I saw a group crowding around a man lying down. I instinctively stopped to assess him and found that he was in full cardiac arrest. I administered CPR for 15 minutes until the paramedics came and took him, still unconscious, to the hospital.
While finishing the last eight miles of the marathon, my mind was racing. In 99.9 percent of similar cases, the person would have died or at the very least, would have severe brain damage, but the CPR I performed did the trick. I was absolutely thrilled to find out the next day that he had recovered completely. In fact, he is now applying to medical school. These experiences have taught me how important it is to be in the best shape possible at all times. You never know when you will have to fight for your life—or save someone else’s.