Leah Olverd: Class President, Scholar-Athlete and SCA Survivor

Leah Olverd: Class President, Scholar-Athlete and SCA Survivor

Leah Olverd, of Plainview, New York, suffered sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) on August 31, 2006, at Bethpage (NY) High School while waiting for the ball during varsity volleyball tryouts. One of her teammates, whose father is EMT, ran to call him saying, “You have to get here right away!”

Leah’s coach, Anne DiPrima, immediately began CPR while others rushed for the school’s AED, just down the hall. Leah was shocked four times and revived.

Within minutes, Leah’s mother Claudia received a frantic call at work from the coach, who said she needed to get to the school right away. “I thought it was a terrorist attack,” she said. “I didn’t realize it was about Leah.”

As Claudia rushed to the school, seven miles away, she received another call, this time from Leah’s phone. “My first thought was, ‘That’s good. She must be okay.’ Then I realized it was the athletic trainer calling, using Leah’s phone. He wanted to know if Leah was on any medications. He told me to head straight for the hospital.” That’s when Claudia called her husband, Dave, who works in Manhattan. “It’s Leah,” she said. “I’m on my way,” he replied.

“It was surreal,” said Claudia. “I’m normally the type of person who would fall apart, but I guess adrenaline kicked in. I was composed and able to drive to the hospital.” Once she got there, reality set in. “I was shocked to see her with a tube down her throat and a brace on her neck,” she said.

Upon evaluation, heart specialists at Schneider's Children's Hospital concluded the cause of Leah’s SCA was most likely long QT syndrome. To be on the safe side, they inserted an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD)--which has never activated. She is also on beta-blockers.

“She did have some memory loss around time of event,” said her mother, “and I was worried about brain damage.” But the “extremely bright” honor student and class president was back in school within two weeks.

Leah still plays high school varsity volleyball and this year was named a Varsity Captain. She has learned to serve with her right hand since the defibrillator was implanted on her left side. "The most important thing to Leah is her volleyball," said Claudia.

She won't be able to play at the college level, however. There are other precautions, too. She is not supposed to swim, take wild rides in amusement parks, or go near large speakers, due to magnets that could set them off.

Family History

The family had known since Leah was about seven years old that she has mitral valve prolapse (MVP). As a result, Leah saw a cardiologist every three years since then and she received regular electrocardiograms (EKGs) and echocardiograms. “They always said she was okay,” said her mother.

Family history seems to play a part. Not only does Leah’s mother have MVP, but her uncle died suddenly in his sleep when he was 19. “He would be in 50s now,” said Claudia. In fact, since Leah’s event, “More and more stories are starting to come out,” about other family members with heart conditions.

Since all this happened, Leah has become quite the spokesperson—raising money for the American Heart Association Heart Walk, speaking at an AHA black tie gala, giving a commencement speech for medical residents at Schneider Children’s Hospital where she was treated, and going before Congress to seek support for federal funding to get AEDs placed in all schools across the nation. (More: http://www.usatoday.com/news/health/2008-02-17-school-defibrillators-side_N.htm)

The Olverd family’s joy can be traced to another family’s sorrow. “We had AEDs at the school long before they were mandated—thankfully,” said Claudia. “This was all because of the Acomporas. I just can’t stress enough how important it is for schools to have AEDs.” (More: www.la-12.org, www.parentheartwatch.org.)

And for schools to ensure their personnel are well-trained in lifesaving skills. “What I don’t understand is why it is not required for teachers to learn CPR and use an AED,” said Claudia. “And why places like ice skating rinks and tennis clubs don’t have AEDs. What are they waiting for? A lawsuit?”

-Mary Newman

Mission & Vision

The mission of the Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA) Foundation is to prevent death and disability from sudden cardiac arrest. The vision of the SCA Foundation is to increase awareness about sudden cardiac arrest and influence attitudinal and behavioral changes that will reduce mortality and morbidity from SCA.

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