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After Divorcing — and Remarrying — Man Saves Wife’s Life When She Has Heart Attack in Her Sleep: 'My Hero'

"He was my heartbeat," Terri Owens, who quite literally owes her life to her husband Doug, tells PEOPLE

<p>Doug and Terri Owens</p> Terri and Doug Owens

Doug and Terri Owens

Terri and Doug Owens

Terri Owens says her husband made her heart whole when they first met. After they remarried decades later, he took things to another level when she went into cardiac arrest in her sleep.

“Doug mended my broken heart through all these years — and then he saved my broken heart," Terri, 61, tells PEOPLE. “He was my heartbeat."

Terri and Doug first met at a roller skating rink when Terri was 16 and he was 17 — and they were still teenagers when they tied the knot on Aug. 14, 1981. “That’s what you do when you’re silly crazy in love,” Terri says.

However, their marriage only lasted a year because they wanted different things: she was ready to be a parent, he wasn't.

During their time apart, they each went on to get married — and divorced — for a second time. But when they reconnected on Facebook in 2010, Terri says it felt like no time had passed.

"It was crazy," she says. "We were talking, laughing, everything was the same."

Related: High School Sweethearts Rekindle Romance 7 Decades Later — and Can’t Stop Cuddling: 'We're Like Teenagers'

<p>Doug and Terri Owens</p> Doug Owens and Terri Owens

Doug and Terri Owens

Doug Owens and Terri Owens

Of course, not everything was the same. For one, Terri was a mother of four. She was also six months into a 2-year-contract working as a contractor in Afghanistan, which led to an unconventional first meeting with her kids.

When her daughter in Houston had an emergency and was rushed to the hospital, Doug went to the ER, introduced himself and waited with her daughter for eight hours. Soon he befriended all four of her children, helping out whenever they needed a hand.

Then, she got a call from her kids. “They told me, 'We’re going to keep him, whether you keep him or not,' " she recalls.

With her children’s approval, they remarried on a very special date — 12/13/14 — and they now live in Southwest Houston.

“He’s my best friend – it’s been wonderful ever since,” Terri says. “We laugh every day. Every day.”

Do you have a sweet story the world needs to know? Send the details to love@people.com for a chance to be featured in Real-Life Love, People.com's series dedicated to sharing extraordinary connections and heartfelt gestures.

<p>Doug and Terri Owens</p> Doug Owens and Terri Owens

Doug and Terri Owens

Doug Owens and Terri Owens

After working in Afghanistan, Terri was diagnosed with“desert pneumonia” and given an asthma medication to help get the sand out of her lungs.

“‘It’s going to feel like your chest is going to explode, but then it’s going to feel better,’ ” she remembers being told. What she ended up feeling was "excruciating" pain.

Although her husband was concerned, Terri was committed to "enduring" the pain, thinking she was just following orders. In fact, her cardiologist tells PEOPLE he doesn't believe there was any causation between her diagnosis, the medication and what happened next.

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Terri was in bed on Aug. 9, 2023, when she recalls feeling ready to tell her husband enough was enough. Instead, the last thing she remembers is praying, "Help me."

Doug was in bed when he heard his wife, who was asleep, snoring in a loud, unusual-sounding way.

“I reached over and shook her, and she stopped,” says Doug, 63, a former superintendent for single family homes. He was almost asleep when he heard her make a strange, gurgling sound.

“I jumped up and turned on the light and she was unresponsive, not breathing, her lips and her eyelids were turning blue,” Doug remembers. “I looked up and said, ‘Please God, no. Don’t take her.' ”

<p>Doug and Terri Owens</p> Doug Owens and Terri Owens

Doug and Terri Owens

Doug Owens and Terri Owens

Doug called 911 and a dispatcher talked him through how to perform CPR. “She was still not breathing, maybe once every 30 or 45 seconds, gasping,” he says. He tried giving her mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, but it wasn’t working.

The operator instructed him to continue with chest compressions to keep beating her heart until a team of eight paramedics and five police officers arrived and began working on his wife.

“I watched them shock her three times, before they chased me out of the room,” he says. “They worked on her for 20 minutes before they even took her in the ambulance.”

And although Doug had a heart attack a few years earlier, he didn't recognize what was going on with Terri because she hadn't exhibited the same as-seen-on TV symptoms he had.

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At Houston’s Memorial Hermann Hospital, an EKG determined Terri was having a heart attack and she was rushed to the operating room, where Dr. Ahmed Ansari discovered she had a 100 percent blockage in her right coronary artery.

Had Doug not jumped in, she probably would have sustained permanent brain damage, because her brain would not have been getting any blood flow, says Ansari, the 39-year-old Chief of Cardiology at Memorial Hermann Southwest,

“CPR is so critical,” Ansari adds. “That’s really truly what saved her life.”

<p>Doug and Terri Owens</p> Terri Owens and Doug Owens

Doug and Terri Owens

Terri Owens and Doug Owens

In the immediate aftermath, Terri experienced short term memory loss. When she woke up in the hospital room, she looked around and asked what had happened. So her husband explained she had a heart attack. "And 30 seconds later, she'd say, 'What happened?' Over and over," he remembers. "Nothing would stick for longer than 15 seconds."

But five days later she began showing signs that her memory had returned, so her husband asked if she knew what day it was.

"I said, 'Of course I do,'" she remembers. "I knew exactly what day it was."

It was August 14, their original wedding anniversary. "We got married 42 years ago,” she recalls saying, before adding, “God answered your prayer. He brought me back to you."

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Terri is now back to work and doing everything she’s always wanted to do from working on her artwork to playing guitar to spending time with her love.

“Every moment is important. Embrace every moment,” Terri says, adding of her husband, “He’s my blessing. He’s my hero.”

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