The lyrics from Lauren Daigle’s 2018 contemporary Christian smash hit “You Say” are never far from Cyndee Hyatt’s mind:
You say I am loved when I can’t feel a thing
You say I am strong when I think I am weak
And you say I am held when I am falling short
When I don’t belong, you say I am yours
And I believe
What you say of me, I believe.
The song, she said, captures the essence of a journey from what her doctor termed “death’s doorstep” to the cusp of a clean bill of health and preparing to return as a special education teacher at Anderson High School.
“I just believe there’s a promise there,” she said, “to make sure that I spread the word about what God did for me while I was in (the hospital).”
LIFESAVING TRAINING ‘KICKS IN’
On Aug. 2 last year, Hyatt, 63, returned to her classroom after shepherding her special needs students to their waiting buses. On the first day of classes, she felt “full of robust energy,” she recalled. She had been looking forward to reconnecting with her students and catching up with their activities from the summer.
She stepped into her classroom holding a collection of folders in which she wanted to begin compiling information for each student. A few minutes of down time at the end of a busy day would help her organize her thoughts and prepare for the rest of the week.
“I felt accomplished,” she said. “It was like, OK, now this is my time to reset.”
Those were the last thoughts she can remember from that day.
Hyatt suffered a cardiac arrest, collapsing on the floor of her classroom.
Several of her colleagues, including Principal Scott Shimer, were soon alerted over their portable radios. Shimer, AHS athletic trainer Donjanae Chamberlain and physical education teacher Mindi Richardson were among the first to arrive in the classroom.
They administered CPR and used an automated external defibrillator to bring back a pulse. Their actions, according to first responders and Hyatt’s medical team, likely saved her life.
“It’s amazing the training you’ve gone through, it kicks in,” Shimer said. “We stabilized her, we rolled her over, and if you look back on it, it’s kind of how we were supposed to do it.”
NEAR DEATH EXPERIENCE
Hyatt woke up six days later in Ascension St. Vincent Hospital in Indianapolis. Unable to speak, she asked her daughter, Ciara Casey, a question through sign language: “What happened?”
Soon after, Dr. Sunit-Preet Chaudhry, a heart failure transplant cardiologist at the hospital, gave Hyatt a stark choice: She could leave the hospital with a temporary device implanted in her chest to help regulate her heart function; or she could be placed on a transplant list.
“She was in the top 1% of the sickest cardiac patients in the country,” Chaudhry said. “We never say a transplant is a cure, but really, it was the best — and in my opinion, the only — option to give her near-guaranteed longevity.”
Due to the severity of her illness, Hyatt was placed near the top of the list. Still, Chaudhry said, a matching heart becoming available within two months was remarkable.
“How quick it happened, it definitely was in her favor,” Chaudhry said. “Sometimes there are things that are a little bit out of our control. I know she’s a woman of faith, and maybe it was something from a higher power, but it was a great heart that came very quickly.”
THE ROAD TO RECOVERY
On Oct. 3 — barely two months after her cardiac arrest — Chaudry and a team of surgeons completed a seven-hour procedure to transplant Hyatt’s new heart. That day, she said, her new “soul journey” began.
During a recent interview, she jokingly gave her age as “eight weeks,” a nod to the sense of rebirth her new heart has given her.
“It’s a true test of your faith, because all those thoughts go through your mind,” she said. “What kind of heart am I going to get? There was some unsettledness.”
An avid writer, Hyatt began keeping a detailed journal so she could recall nearly every element of her recovery. She wrote down thoughts from conversations with her nurses. She included prayers she shared with hospital chaplains.
She also bonded with her team of nurses, memorizing their shift schedules and building deep friendships.
“I knew everything,” Hyatt said. “I even knew if they had boyfriends. I got familiar with every single nurse who was there.”
Her recovery would not be without its dark moments, but those who worked with her over the next two months were struck by her compassion and concern for others, balanced by an uncanny sense of awareness of her own needs.
“Cyndee already had a very solid sense of self, which was absolutely rooted in her love of God and caring for other people,” said Emma Anderson, a music therapist at Ascension St. Vincent.
Anderson and Hyatt met at least twice a week as part of Hyatt’s therapy regimen. They sang hymns together, listened to other music and discussed song lyrics that Hyatt found meaningful — including “You Say,” which became an anthem of sorts for the pair.
When Hyatt was discharged from the hospital, Anderson presented her with a CD featuring the song overlaid with clips of Hyatt’s heartbeat — from both before and after the transplant.
“It’s a meaningful song that represents her health journey,” Anderson said. “We kind of processed the meaning of the song with her, and then we combined all those elements together. It was like a living legacy project, kind of a reminder of her strength and resilience.”
Hyatt is in the process of writing a book composed largely of her journal entries and other anecdotes from her experience. With a tentative title, “My Heart Promise,” the book, Hyatt hopes, will convey encouragement by recounting the role her faith has played in her recovery.
Her ordeal, she said, “has been a gift.”
“I want to let everybody know that through faith and my heart gift, my promise is to continue living a robust life, telling them all about Jesus Christ.”
This article appeared in The Herald Bulletin.