BY JASMINE WYLIE
This morning I woke up. I made coffee and carried my cup out to the back porch. At 6 am, it was still dark outside. Off in the distance, through the trees, I saw the IU Health Bloomington Hospital sign in giant, glowing letters. And like every morning, I looked at those glowing letters, and thought, “I am so glad I live in Bloomington.”
This city has a lot of things I appreciate—the university, the great restaurants, the thriving art scene—but none more than that building, rising above the city. I feel such a fondness for IU Health Bloomington Hospital because one morning in 2009, when I was 24 years old, I did not wake up. Instead, I had a sudden cardiac arrest (SCA). My husband, Clint, immediately began CPR, and within minutes I was being whisked by ambulance to the hospital. There, on a hot August morning, I received the coldest gift of my life.
Therapeutic hypothermia is a treatment in which the body temperature is lowered to between 89.6 and 93.2 degrees Fahrenheit in order to preserve neurological function. This treatment is not offered at every hospital, and in 2009 it was rarer than today. I was only the tenth patient cooled at Bloomington Hospital.
The cause of my SCA was Long QT syndrome, a condition I inherited. If your family has a history of sudden death among young, otherwise healthy people, you should check it out. According to the Mayo Clinic website, Long QT syndrome is “a heart rhythm disorder that can potentially cause fast, chaotic heartbeats.” Warning signs include fainting or seizures, especially during exercise or emotional stress. Until my attack, I had no symptoms and the disorder had gone undiagnosed. For about 10 percent of people with the syndrome, cardiac arrest is the first—and often last—symptom.
When Long QT appears in the news, it is often a tragic story: the football player who drops dead in the middle of the homecoming game, the boy who drowns in a swimming pool, the little girl who passes away in her sleep, the woman who dies shortly after the birth of her first child. Thanks to a quick response by my husband, advanced medical technology, and a whole lot of luck, my experience did not turn out to be one of those tragedies. Perhaps that is why I tell my story, as a testament to living with a sudden death syndrome.
Long QT syndrome is treated with medication and/or an implanted cardioverter-defibrillator, a device similar to a pacemaker that can deliver a life-saving shock. I am quite fond of my defibrillator, because 11 months after that August morning in 2009, it fired a shock. But this time, I didn’t need CPR or an ambulance or a cold coma to protect my brain. This time, I just felt a jolt and hopped right up to start the coffee.
There is no cure for Long QT syndrome. It’s part of my genetics and will be with me until the day I die. Now that I am diagnosed and being treated, I’m planning on living to be at least 107. Indeed, those of us who get a diagnosis are the lucky ones.
SCA survival statistics are dismal. It is a leading cause of death, with about 300,000 people in the U.S. losing their lives to SCA each year. About 4,000 of these deaths are due to Long QT syndrome. Less than 10 percent of those who experience an SCA survive, and many of those survivors suffer long-term brain impairment.
For those who survive but do not immediately regain consciousness, the only treatment proven to protect the brain is therapeutic hypothermia. So this morning, like all mornings, I sipped my coffee on the back porch, looking at those glowing letters in the distance, and was grateful that I was taken there and received this treatment.
Some SCA survivors talk about seeing a light when they were stricken. I see lights every morning of my life: giant glowing letters that read, IU Health Bloomington Hospital.