It's an unexpected cause of death that can happen in just seconds, and thousands of Americans fall victim to it every year.
It can cause death instantly. In fact, it’s estimated 325,000 adults fall victim to sudden cardiac death in the U.S. every year. Meet one woman who not only beat the odds but is now living her best life.
July 6, 2016, started out as a normal day of work for Anne Carlino
“I left the restaurant, and that’s all I remember," she said.
No memory of driving to the hospital, collapsing outside the emergency room or the police officer who found her.
“He walked over to me and I took my last breath,” Anne said.
That’s sudden cardiac death.
“A rhythm disturbance, a rhythm disturbance with a very dangerous rhythm where the blood pressure becomes extremely low,” explained Dr. Kenneth Fromkin, of the Cleveland Clinic Florida.
Anne had no pulse. The police officer and ER staff worked to resuscitate her for 28 minutes.
“Typically, those individuals have significant lack of oxygen to the brain, significant damage to the brain,” Fromkin said.
Despite the odds, Fromkin rushed Anne into the cardiac cath lab.
“I noticed that she was moving, she was moving her arms and legs,” the doctor said.
Five days after emergency surgery to open up a blocked artery, Anne woke up. Doctors say she was technically dead for more than 30 minutes but amazingly suffered no neurological deficits.
“This was definitely one of the most remarkable cases I’ve ever seen,” Fromkin said.
Anne even got to thank her hero, Steve Barreto, the police officer who saved her life.
“I got to give him a great big hug and thank him," Anne said. "I mean, it meant the world to me.”
July 6, 2016, is Anne’s new birthday.
“I’m starting all over again,” she said.
Starting over with a rare second chance at life.
Anne’s sudden cardiac death was caused by a blocked artery that caused a heart attack. But Fromkin says in most cases it’s caused by an electrical disturbance that affects heart function and will cause sudden death unless emergency treatment is given immediately.
That’s why he says it’s so important for everyone to learn CPR.
BROUGHT BACK TO LIFE FROM SUDDEN CARDIAC DEATH
BACKGROUND: Sudden cardiac death (SCD) is a sudden, unexpected death caused by a change in heart rhythm. It is the largest cause of natural death in the United States. SCD causes about 325,000 adult deaths each year and is responsible for half of all heart disease deaths. Sudden cardiac arrest is not a heart attack, but can occur during a heart attack. Heart attacks occur when there is a blockage in one or more of the arteries to the heart, preventing the heart from receiving enough oxygen-rich blood. If the oxygen in the blood cannot reach the heart muscle, the heart becomes damaged. In contrast, sudden cardiac arrest occurs when the electrical system to the heart malfunctions and suddenly becomes very irregular. The heart beats dangerously fast. The ventricles may flutter or quiver and blood is not delivered to the body. In the first few minutes, the greatest concern is that blood flow to the brain will be reduced so drastically that a person will lose consciousness. Death follows unless emergency treatment is begun immediately.
SYMPTOMS AND RISK FACTORS: Some people may experience symptoms of sudden cardiac arrest, such as a racing heartbeat or feeling dizzy, alerting them that a potentially dangerous heart rhythm problem has started. In over half of the cases, however, sudden cardiac arrest occurs without prior symptoms. Most sudden cardiac deaths are caused by abnormal heart rhythms called arrhythmias. The most common life-threatening arrhythmia is ventricular fibrillation, which is an erratic, disorganized firing of impulses from the ventricles. When this occurs, the heart is unable to pump blood and death will occur within minutes if left untreated. There are many risk factors that can increase a person's risk of sudden cardiac arrest and sudden cardiac death. Some include previous heart attack with a large area of the heart damaged, coronary artery disease, personal or family history of certain abnormal heart rhythms (including long or short QT syndrome, Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome, extremely low heart rates, or heart block), ventricular tachycardia or ventricular fibrillation after a heart attack, or history of congenital heart defects or blood vessel abnormalities.
GENE MAY BE LINKED TO CARDIAC ARREST: South African researchers have helped identify a new gene that predisposes young people to cardiac arrest. University of Cape Town (UCT) academics and the South African Medical Research Council collaborated with experts from Italy in the discovery of the CDH2 gene. The gene is the major cause of cardiac-related deaths. Researchers say sudden cardiac arrest claims the lives of more than five young South Africans daily. The CDH2 gene causes a heart condition referred to as arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy. Professor Bongani Mayosi, the Health Sciences Faculty dean at UCT, says, “Identifying the gene allows doctors to apply preventative techniques. We can implant devices inside your heart to shock you when you have abnormal heart rhythm and prevent you from dying.” Technology made available by the Italian Auxologico Institute of Milan enabled the discovery of the gene through a technique called "whole exome sequencing."