COLTS NECK, NJ: It only takes a few seconds for something unexpected to strike suddenly and without warning. Something that changes the course of life, in the blink of an eye. Too often, there is only a short window of time where knowledge, training, fast thinking and quick action can mean the difference between life or death. For Colts Neck couple Abbey Feiler Kober and Tom Kober, that small window was the wee early morning hours of November 1st, 2017. The couple is very well known socially in Colts Neck and surrounding communities, especially for their hospitality and support with regard to many charitable organizations and important causes. They had been out the evening before, enjoying Halloween together on the town, just like any typical night out for them.
Their home and property were being prepped for an upcoming charity event and the busy couple had so much to look forward to. Life was good. Things took a very unexpected turn and Abbey and Tom want to share their story and their road to recovery, to raise awareness of the importance of healthy lifestyle habits as well as life saving methods of cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and automated external defibrillator's (AED's).
Abbey says, "I fell asleep before Tommy that night and I remember awakening suddenly on November 1st, around 4:30 a.m. and finding Tommy next to me with his arms and legs in the air. He was foaming at the mouth with his eyes rolled back in his head. I immediately started screaming his name, called 911 and pulled him off the bed to the floor." Abbey somehow at that terrifying moment went back in time over 30 years ago... Abbey says, "I remembered the basic instructions for CPR from a gym class I was in when I was a kid attending Rumson Country Day School in Rumson, NJ. From that class, I gathered the basics I remembered and I started CPR on him. The 911 operator helped me to continue. Then, in what seemed like an eternity but was really only a few minutes, the Colts Neck police arrived and I had to listen for the landline phone to ring to press the button to open my electronic gate. Then, I had to run to open my front door and continue up ahead of them to continue the CPR." Tommy had suffered sudden cardiac arrest, something different from a heart attack, and very often fatal. He had no sign of a pulse. According to the American Heart Association, "A heart attack is when blood flow to the heart is blocked (think plumbing) while sudden cardiac arrest is when the heart malfunctions and suddenly stops beating unexpectedly (electrical). A heart attack is a 'circulation' problem while sudden cardiac arrest is an 'electrical' problem."
TAPinto spoke with the first responder on the scene a Colts Neck Police Officer of 25 years, Officer Brian Matthews arrived only three minutes after Abbey dialed 911. Matthews said, "It was a very intense scene. Abbey was screaming, understandably so. She was totally in action doing compressions on a very lifeless looking Tom who was laying on the floor. I immediately assessed the situation finding no breathing and no pulse. I quickly prepped him with the patches for the AED while the second officer on the scene Gabe Campan, immediately continued doing the compressions Abbey had started, as I prepared the AED and we then shocked him. Nothing happened to change his condition, so we tried again and it was after 3-4 attempts that we were finally able to get a pulse. Abbey was pleading with Tom to come back. We were so fortunate to get a pulse back and First Aid arrived and all of us kept working on Tom and prepping him to get into the ambulance. Tom was very lucky and as we all know this is not always the case."
Abbey continues, "As they were loading Tom into the ambulance in front of our home he had to be shocked several more times, seven total AED shocks that evening I think. Of course they wouldn't let me drive so I jumped in a car following the ambulance. You could tell that no one thought Tommy was going to make it. Everyone except me was really quiet. I questioned the police officer I was with on the ride over and his eyes were filled with tears... and I found out later that on the way there they changed his condition to viable rather than the original call made of bringing in a dead on arrival (DOA). Just thinking about him being brought in as a DOA makes me shudder. We were headed to CentraState Medial Center. Our whole world was falling apart in an instant. When we got there it was a whirlwind of activity and life saving techniques, getting Tommy loaded on the helicopter awaiting us to go to Robert Wood Johnson Hospital (RWJ). Tommy was in very critical condition and I didn't know if I would ever see him alive again when we parted."
The second day at Robert Wood Johnson Hospital Abbey took her first food break away from Tommy's hospital room and in that short window of time his heart stopped again. She ran back into the hospital room as he was being revived with CPR and an AED. Abbey says, "I went to get a quick bite to eat leaving him for the first time and he technically died again, totally flat lined with no pulse. They were working on him frantically and by some miracle, and yes I believe in those now, he made it through again." Now he was the man who had died multiple times in the last 48 hours and there was a strong chance that he may never make it home. Abbey, her family and friends held vigil at the hospital for days and then weeks... Tommy was incubated on a ventilator and respirator for over two weeks.
When Tommy could communicate he told Abbey that on day two when he coded his father who had passed 2 years prior (now) came to him and told him it wasn't his time and to go back and to fight. Abbey said, "Tommy's father died two years ago. He had diabetes and was a double amputee. Tommy told me he saw his father, only looking younger, healthy and walking with both legs and telling him to go back and fight to live and that it wasn't his time."
Abbey continues, "Previously, Tommy and I never really believed in a lot of what we were now experiencing. I kept thinking something beyond this earth was helping us. How did I wake up at the right time to see him dying and actually recall the CPR I learned as a child? Tommy saw his dad who was frantically telling him to go back and fight? He had died so many times and still was brought back to us. I was very thankful and grateful and also started realizing that if all of the chain of events did not occur as they had, if one link was missing, Tommy would already be gone. The links working together from the time I woke up, started CPR, the 911 call, the Police and First Aid, CentraState Medical Center, the Advanced Life Support, Robert Wood Johnson... every vital link saved his life. I began to feel eternally grateful to the Colts Neck Police, First Aid, CentraState, Advanced Life Support, and RWJ...all of the first responders, doctors, nurses...all of the support from our family and friends. So many people together saved my husband. We are eternally grateful. I started feeling like I needed to tell everyone that I saw to make sure they take a CPR class if they haven't already had."
Recently, Abbey along with her parents and their housekeeper took a CPR class at TeamLife in Colts Neck. Abbey says, "I have an important message I need to share. I feel I need to keep telling everyone I know and meet: If you do not know CPR please take a class and bring your family members, friends, babysitters,... you never know when you can save the life of a loved one or a stranger. Those first few moments are truly life or death. Just like the TeamLife slogan says, 'Anyone Can Be A Hero' I agree, everyone can be."
Team Life President and Founder Jim Schatzle says, "In America every 90 seconds someone suffers sudden cardiac arrest. That equates to about 1000 people a day, out of that 1000 people only 5 percent will survive. The reason for that low survival rate is that very few of them will receive CPR performed on them prior to the ambulance arriving and even less of them will have an AED applied to them. So every minute that goes by without CPR and the use of an AED you have a 10 percent less chance of survival. Average time for an ambulance to arrive in this country is 8-12 minutes, you can see the problem here... and the importance of someone starting CPR immediately." See video here of TeamLife Founder and President Jim Schatzle with an important public service announcement:
The next 2 and a half weeks at RWJ were full of ups and downs, twists and turns for Tommy, with Abbey at his side, often just sitting next to him and staring at him, crying, hoping and praying. Finally he was stable enough for surgery... Tommy says, "I don't remember much about my stay there but I remember that I knew my best friend and the love of my life Abbey was there for me by my side through it all, and she made me feel calm. I can't thank my doctors at RWJ enough. How do you properly thank the doctors and nurses who saved your life? I'm eternally grateful. I left RWJ with an internal defibrillator and pacemaker. The doctors are amazing. They saved my life and gave me the best care possible."
Tom is under the care of cardiologists from RWJ Barnabas Health; Dr. Ted Gutowski and Dr. Ashish Shukla. The cardiologist nurse practitioner handling the Kober case post surgery, Heather Reenstra commented, "Tom is doing really well. We shared a lot of time going over his medication, talking with him about what happened to his body and why it happened and how to prevent the same thing from occurring again. We went over a healthy diet, his cardio rehab... He's very lucky to be alive and very fortunate that his wife knew CPR and began the compressions when she did. He would not be alive otherwise."
TAPinto joined Tom and Abbey to accompany them on a cardiologist visit and to the Cardiac Rehab Center at CentraState. Cardiologist Dr. Ted Gutowski, said, "Tom is very fortunate to be doing so well and that CPR was started on him in those critical moments." Dr Gutowski then told everyone a brief story about a case he was just working with where his young patient only in their 30's suffered sudden cardiac arrest. The patient was in a public place and was saved by a bystander performing CPR and administering the use of an AED with a 911 operator giving them instructions. Gutowski said that patient just went home.
Abbey comments, "When Tommy was finally able to go home, I was so thankful and also very scared. We had both been through trauma. Me mentally, him both physically and mentally... I was worried I wouldn't be able to care for him. Tommy and I are both very independent and Tom was very set in his ways. I almost lost him I mean he died! I knew what it felt like to lose 'my everything' and I was so scared. We were so fortunate that RWJ put us in the caring hands of the Cardiac Rehabilitation Center at CentraState. The team at the rehab center gave Tommy the confidence, guidance and care needed and it became a routine he looked forward to. Every session built his strength a little more. When he graduated from the program in April we both cried. I think the tears were because we had become so attached to the lovely team there but even more from deep emotional gratitude."
Tom added, "When I first started at the Cardiac Rehab Center I was a disaster and they immediately gave me hope and confidence. I cherish this place I really do. I was desperate, they knew how to relax me and get me focused and every session I grew stronger and felt healthier.You wear a heart monitor and they can track every thing from their computer screens, tracking progress every session. For me it wasn't just about healing my heart and recovering from the surgery. It's about a new lifestyle and the nurses in the cardiac rehab helped me immeasurably." Tom continues. "Abbey always wants to help others but wow, I know first hand how she reacts in a crisis situation, she sprang into action like a pro. She saved my life in those first critical minutes. I get emotional talking about it now all these months later. Tom's eyes are filled with tears and as they roll off his cheeks he continues, "Abbey is my world and without her I wouldn't be here. She saved me. She's my real hero. There's no one like Abbey. She's always on me to take care of myself, and I complain but I know how lucky I am. She's making sure I take all of my medications and take them on time. She's always encouraging me to eat healthy, exercise and enjoy life and live in the moment deeply. I returned to my job as a lead master plumber for A.J. Perri and I feel like I have so much energy during work, after work,... I don't tire as easily as I did before. My new lifestyle makes me feel like I have the energy I did decades ago."
Abbey adds, "Tom's different now, he's definitely more mindful and lives life in a deeper way, not on the perimeter at all which is where he was pretty often before his SCA battle. He also did not take his blood pressure medication correctly for the past 15 years and he was a smoker. He didn't care what he ate, and would get upset with me when I got on him about it. He's very lucky he has another chance and you bet I'm going to make sure he doesn't blow it. I'm continuing to take care of myself too finding yoga to be a great stress reliever for me. I train with an amazing woman, Allison Scaramuzzo at Dragonfly Yoga Studio. As for activities as a couple, Tom and I recently starting enjoying golfing and we plan to start working out together at 9Round in Colts Neck. It's a total body workout in 30 minutes and it's personalized to each client so Tommy can go at his own pace now that he has graduated from Cardio Rehab. 9Round is in the Orchards Plaza in Colts Neck where we also regularly enjoy delicious healthy fresh fruit, protein, grain and toppings bowls from Frutta Bowls Colts Neck. We've become friends with Frutta Bowl owner Kristine Garland and her husband Ray. They really created a comfortable atmosphere with their comfy leather sofas and warm hospitality. Tommy and I also enjoy going to see bands and are big supporters of the popular Rock N Roll Time Machine. They sometimes practice on our property. We love intimate band settings as well. In April we traveled to Cleveland for the recent Bon Jovi induction Ceremony into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame."
Tom and Abbey were married in 2012 at Eagle Oaks, and recently had an opportunity to renew their wedding vows in a community ceremony with Colts Neck Mayor JP Bartolomeo. Tom says, "The ceremony was very casual and the Mayor made it fun for everyone. However, I became so emotional during the ceremony holding Abbey's hands and looking into her eyes. Everything raced through my mind; our history together, our recent battle we won, the privilege of holding her hands at that moment, and our amazing future I see. I'm filled with love for my best friend." See the article link here from TAPinto about the Wedding Renewal Ceremony: tapinto.net/towns/holmdel-and-colts-neck/articles/celebration-of-music-and-marriage-with-colts-neck
As for the couples favorite date night scenario: Abbey comments, "We both have a passion for hosting and attending a lot of charity events. We just attended the 2nd Annual 'Fashion is Art' a Larry Garmany Legacy Event honoring the life of Dr.Steven Berkowitz. Last month we had the privilege to give back to CentraState Medical Hospital at our Abbey Farms, hosting an event for their board members. We love low key time together too. A perfect date night for us is ordering food in or going out to dinner at my favorite restaurant, Bistro in Red Bank, then come home and hang out with our 3 dogs Dozer, Mel and Mo. We both appreciate the simple things in life and never take them for granted. Life is good again. Actually life is great!" When TAPinto asked Abbey what she loves most about Tommy she said, "Ironically what I have always loved most about Tommy is his big loving heart. It's why I married him. You better believe I'm going to make sure he takes care of it!"
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Abbey and Tom are supporters of many charities and good causes, and if they are not attending a fundraiser event they are often hosting one in their Colts Neck home, a stunning 30,000 square foot mansion named Abbey Farms. See TAPinto link here for an example of an event Abbey and Tommy hosted last year: tapinto.net/towns/holmdel-and-colts-neck/sections/social-pages/articles/posh-chateau-in-colts-neck-hosts-reception-for-sp
See previous article of the couple giving thanks to first responders at Colts Neck Township Committee Meeting: