Sudden Cardiac Arrest is a condition when the heart suddenly and unexpectedly stops beating. It is an electrical problem with the heart and very different from a heart attack. If not treated within a matter of minutes the result is almost always death. Although rare, teenage athletes can have this happen and it typically occurs during the activity. Nancy Naeve Brown met one of those teens who's now in her 20's and happy to share the story of how she survived.
It's no coincidence Paige Hemmah interns at the Avera Heart Hospital after going through 4 heart surgeries in the last 6 years. When Paige was a senior at Roslyn High School, her family doctor noticed a murmur in her heart that wasn't there before. After a lot of tests they found out she was born with a rare abnormality.
Paige says, "My left main coronary artery was attached to my pulmonary artery instead of my aorta so basically the left side of my heart was receiving de-oxygenated blood."
Cardiac Electrophysiologist Dr. Paul Olson at North Central Heart is now Paige's in Sioux Falls. He says because this condition is so rare it's hard to diagnose and because hers went undetected she unknowingly put herself at risk for cardiac arrest every time she played volleyball or ran or cheered.
Dr. Paul Olson says, "Intense physical activity with competitive athletics can cause a change with high levels of adrenaline can cause heart to be more susceptible to abnormal electrical activity."
Once Paige found out about her heart, her family took her to Rochester to have it repaired. That was in December of 2004. Two months later she was cleared for activity. And wouldn't you know it, one of her first game's back on the sidelines cheerleading; she went into sudden cardiac arrest.
Paige says, "On March 1st my heart stopped at a basketball game. It was a district game. We were tied at half. We were doing our dance routine at half time and I collapsed."
In 2005 when she arrested and collapsed on the floor they didn't have an AED in the Sisseton High School Gym like they do now at so many places so 4 nurses in the stands kept her alive by doing CPR for 15 minutes.
Paige says, "I don't remember cheering. I don't remember being emergency airlifted. It was a Tuesday when I collapsed and I woke up the following Saturday in Mayo after I'd had another surgery."
This time around she had open heart bypass surgery and got a stent. A week after that surgery she had a defibrillator implanted. In March of 2011 she got her 2nd defib. It's no wonder this 24 year old wants to go in the business of promoting good health care. She knows without good doctors, nurses and surgeons she would be dead. It's a topic that's pretty close to her heart. A surgically improved heart filled with love and excitement about her upcoming nuptials.
We will be following up with Dr. Olson about when high school athletes should be screened for heart conditions and what that should involve.