The family was gathering to celebrate Kim Hansen's birthday a week early. Her mother, 82-year-old Audrey Dufault, had just arrived at Hansen's cozy Folsom house, and as she turned to put the birthday cake on the kitchen counter, Dufault heard a noise behind her.
Hansen was sprawled on the living room floor, unconscious. Her eyes rolled back in her head. She exhaled one last, long breath.
"I thought, 'What in the world are you doing?' " said Dufault, who also lives in Folsom. "At first, I thought she fainted, so I screamed at her to wake up."
And then, as if on automatic pilot, the retired registered nurse dropped to the ground and started performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation.
Her last CPR class was more than 20 years ago, before she retired in 1992 from a 33-year career at Mercy General Hospital. She assumed her skills were long out of date.
Besides, she said: "I'd never given CPR to a human."
Dufault brought her daughter into the world 52 years ago – and on the afternoon of Sept. 30, the day her daughter had a heart attack, she made sure that Hansen stayed alive, performing CPR until medics arrived.
On the list of what Kim Hansen and her husband, Dave, 58, are grateful for this Thanksgiving week: having a mother who, unlike almost 80 percent of Americans, knows exactly what to do in a life-threatening emergency.
Although Dufault spent the last 16 years of her nursing career in cardiac surgery, she mostly considered CPR a skill the hospital required her to learn.
"We had defibrillator paddles in the operating room," she said. "We had doctors.
"CPR is something you put in the back of your brain. It's not like you walk through a crowd and think you'll have to give somebody CPR."
Doctors at Mercy General Hospital later found that Hansen's heart attack was caused by a blockage in the main artery to her heart. Only 8 percent of people survive after suffering similar cardiac arrest episodes outside the hospital.
Two stents and a brief hospital stay later, Hansen is home and back at work for the state Board of Equalization.
"I don't remember much about the day it happened," she said. "I don't remember being in the intensive care unit. But when I woke up, they said I'd had a heart attack."
She is trim and energetic, a woman who likes to take walks and stay active. But her father, Russ Dufault, suffered from heart problems for years before his death at age 81 in 2008.
Heart attacks are the leading cause of death for Americans, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but like most people, Hansen wrongly assumed that cardiac problems were only an old-age issue.
"I've been in perfect health all this time," she said. "All I can do is stay positive now and not dwell on what could have happened."
When Dave Hansen drove up to their home that afternoon, he heard a commotion in the house. He walked in, and Dufault told him to call 911.
"To say the least, I was in shock," he said. "The paramedics had to zap Kim twice with the defibrillator paddles."
He's never taken a CPR class.
"Nope, but I will now," he said.
His wife doesn't yet know CPR, either. But they're going to learn it now, the Hansens said, because they know first-hand the difference it can make.