Hiking with defib/pacemaker after aborted sudden cardiac arrest

Hiking with defib/pacemaker after aborted sudden cardiac arrest

On March 7, 2019, I was hiking alone in Frozen Head State Park in Tennessee. I just finished climbing a tough 2.5 mile section of the trail and was about .5 miles from the trailhead (with a road near it). Suddenly, my heart began that fast pounding and my breathing turned very labored. I leaned over my poles and waited for this to stop. Previously, I had episodes of non-sustained ventricular tachycardia and figured this was more of the same. I was wrong. It did not stop. I clawed at my neck thinking something was caught and then tried to get my pack off with the same thought. I could not unsnap the pack- it was too difficult for some reason. My bladder let lose and then I knew sustained VT would kill me. Becoming an observer (I am academia)- I thought, "I will be the first sibling to die" and "Now I know how I would die." It was very confusing at that point. Tried to sit down and somehow ended up lying in the cold mud of the trail on my left side. Couldn't breath at that point and I think I passed out. Sometime/somehow I had the feeling of waking up (like after a nap) and having the ability to suck down air. I had the very pleasant thought of being comfortable (since I could breath some) and figured dying of hypothermia is better than dying of suffocation. Again, this is confusing. Somehow, I sat up and unhooked my pack. Managed to reach in my pocket to get my cell phone and tried to stand. That was a mistake. Holding the phone, I ended up back on the trail, lying in the cold mud. My wife's number was already up and I pressed the call. Luckily- I was high enough and the signal got out. She answered and heard..."heart...can't breath...half mile from top...", and other mumbled words she could not understand. I think I passed out again since my breathing was so hard- couldn't breath again. But I am not sure. I heard two hikers coming and talking. They were calling out to me (later I learned I was unresponsive and not moving). I just lay there- too exhausted to respond - but able to roll over. My breathing was labored, but certainly was more normal. When they came to me, I was able to sit up.
The rest is anti-climatic. I insisted on walking out of there - took an hour to walk the last .5 miles- while they carried my stuff. Before I started to walk, mountain rescue EMTs found us and held me as I walked. Ambulance at the top and off I went.
At ER, my EF had dropped from 50 to 30, my blood indicators showed considerable muscle damage, and I had on-going salvos of non-sustained VT. In the ambulance- I had atrial fibrillation. Later, the cardiologist thought the AF rescued me from the SVT. Interesting and I wonder if anyone else had that. Two days later I had a defibrillator/pacemaker put in and the new normal started.
I have cardiac sarcoidosis according the cardiac MRI and I am off to the Cleveland Heart Clinic next week to determine if it is old scar or active. Still walk in the neighborhood and my EF climbed all the way up to 35-40 range. I am an avid hiker and live by the Smoky Mountains. No intention of stopping.
Thanks for listening- you certainly know the deal.

SCAFoundation's picture
SCAFoundation wrote 13 weeks 3 days ago

Thank you for sharing your story!

What a remarkable and detailed account! Thank you for sharing.
We wish you all the best as you continue to enjoy hiking!

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