She’s Not Joking

She’s Not Joking

Anne Duffy, Moorestown, NJ – 37 at time of event (2007)

It was a stressful week in early December, and their son’s fifth birthday party had taken it’s toll. They were relaxing on the sofa together, after dinner. Anne felt dizzy and some nausea. She started to say “I think I’m going to pass out,” but didn’t get that far. David felt her fall into his lap.
“He thought I was joking around. He’d been teasing me that I had been really tired for a couple of weeks before. We were going to rent a movie or something.” But Anne was not kidding around, she was dying.

David turned Anne over and looked into her vacant eyes, and then saw her face turn purple. She was making gasping sounds. He immediately put her on the floor and called 9-1-1.
“He kept telling them I wasn’t breathing and had no pulse. But for some reason they didn’t tell him to do CPR.” David was a lifeguard and knew CPR was required. Just as he was about to start the compressions, Anne woke up.
“I remember opening my eyes and seeing a birthday present for my son and wondering where I was and how I got there. In my mind I had gone to bed [earlier]. I didn’t feel any pain, but remembered saying I was going to pass out.” Anne said without wonder. She was confused and could hear voices and sense something in the background, hearing breathing and someone close.
“He said one of my first questions was ‘Am I dead?’,” Anne recalled. Then it all became clear and Anne was fully awake, and aware. She watched as the police and EMTs come into the room.
“They didn’t have to shock me at all. I was lucky, it was self terminating [arrhythmia].”

After waiting for sometime to ensure she was stable, the EMTs took her to the hospital, where they identified that Anne was suffering from runs of V-tach*. At that point the hospital staff had a condition they knew how to treat. Anne was rushed to the cardiac ward, received lidocaine, and was prepped for a heart catheterization.
“Within about half an hour everything turned,” Anne said firmly. She was sent to Philadelphia for the catheterization, but it turned up clear. No blockages, no damage to her heart muscle. And no diagnosis or cause was forthcoming either. Next step was a cardiac MRI, but again nothing conclusive was found. “At the end of the week it was my birthday, and the day after I had an ICD implanted! It was the most expensive birthday present I’ve ever got,” Anne said with a smirk. But there were more surprises to come. New Jersey requires survivors of SCA to abstain from driving for a year, so Anne was housebound and forced to hire a nanny to care for her toddlers. By February their routines were set, and Anne was surprised to find she was pregnant.
“I called [the cardiologist] and asked ‘Is this okay?’ He said yes; we had already started to ween me off the beta-blockers.”
It was an uneventful pregnancy and baby Ben was born healthy and perfectly normal. Her other boys have also had cardiac work-ups and nothing was found.

Finally, the cardiologist found a clue to Anne’s collapse. He had monitored her heart during the pregnancy and caught a coupling of PVCs** that were capable of triggering the deadly arrhythmia.

Anne has passed her first anniversary without a repeat episode. And she has her fingers crossed...

-Jeremy Whitehead

* Ventricular Tachycardia is an abnormally fast heartbeat that can be a prelude to the deadly V-fib. ** Premature Ventricular Contractions are commonly known as palpitations, but when a series of them arrive in sequence (called Bigeminy, or Trigeminy) they can disturb the normal rhythm leading to arrhythmia.

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