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Life After: Simi Valley couple shares heart attack story through animated film

Spirit, Inspiring Stories

Recounting the details of a traumatic event is never easy. Most of us have experienced close calls and losses that have caused us to feel fear, shock and grief. For Shawn and Angela Willson, they have turned their brush with death into an outreach mission. Together, the couple has recounted their dramatic story of Shawn’s near-death heart attack, and survival, since it occurred on April 20, 2015.

Shawn had been experiencing early warning signs of heart disease, but he thought it was a panic attack. A week later, stabbing chest pain caused him to realize that he needed to get to the ER immediately. His wife,Angela, drove him to the nearest hospital, Adventist Health Simi Valley, where it was confirmed that he was having a heart attack. As he was transported to the cath lab, his heart stopped. The team rushed into action, shocking his heart and starting CPR.

Adventist Health Simi Valley team members shocked Shawn’s heart 16 times and provided CPR for 52 minutes until they could get a heart rhythm established. All of this happened in the hallway of the ER and in front of his wife and father-in-law. Shawn’s life was saved and his heart and brain both survived.

What do you do with your life after such a horrific and terrifying event? Shawn and Angela found healing byreaching out to others and forming a heart patient support group hosted by the hospital. They have retold their story countless times to the support group, reporters and writers. Most recently, they spoke to the creative team at Pathfinder Films.

Pathfinder Films wanted to tell the story in a way that could help others learn how to listen to the early warning signs of heart disease. The couple interviewed for several hours, drawing out the story in their natural unscripted voices. The Pathfinder creative team was inspired by the loving comradery and humor expressed by Shawn and Angela as they recounted the events that led up to his heart attack and how they have lived in the aftermath.

The four-minute, digitally-animated film, “Life After,” was released in February 2018 and is used by the hospital and community groups for heart health education and awareness.

On May 22, 2018, “Life After” won a prestigious national award, The Gold Telly, beating out other animated submissions by Google, Amazon, FoxSports, Harvard, PepsiCo and others. This award is a tribute to the story and the relationship of Shawn and Angela. With the film being seen and utilized by more people, the goal is to help others recognize early signs and seek help.

Life After

Jennifer Swenson, president of Adventist Health Simi Valley, receives city council honor from Simi Valley Mayor Bob Huber and the members of Simi Valley City Council on July 30. The mayor helped unveil the film, "Life After" at a special private event in February where he called for our community to rally around heart health awareness and prevention.