Posted on 05/08/2018
Maryanne Gale and family

WASHINGTON HEIGHTS, NY--Maryanne Gale can't remember much about the months following her sudden cardiac arrest. She describes the feeling now as "all of her memories starting on the same day," and said she didn't even feel conscious until about a week into her hospital stay. Even after her discharge, Gale said she felt "adrift."

"When you're walking around and people are looking at you going 'people don't survive this kind of thing' you can feel really alone," Gale said. "You don't understand why you feel the way you feel."

More people than ever are surviving sudden cardiac arrest due to advances in critical care, which has drawn attention to the damage it inflicts on the brain, Dr. Sachin Agarwal, a neurologist at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center, said.

Agarwal was inspired to research the connection between cardiac arrest and the brain when a young patient died in his ICU. The patient died of brain damage even though her heart was functioning fine, Agarwal said.

"We found that there are a lot of survivors in the last 10 years from this hospital," Agarwal said. "So we started a study and started calling these people to ask how they were doing. A lot of people had passed away in those years, but a lot of them who were discharged with a good neurological status had a deep deterioration over a period of one year."

After a two-year study on these patients, Agarwal and a team of neurologists established the nation's first Neurocardiac Clinic. The clinic is intended to be a "one-stop shop" for the neurological and mental health of cardiac arrest survivors, Agarwal said.

As many as half the survivors of sudden cardiac arrest will suffer from cognitive and neurological deficits, more than 65 percent will develop anxiety or depression, 25 percent will suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and about 50 percent will never return to work, Agarwal said.

Gale, a mother of two from Washington Heights, said life after cardiac arrest was like "walking around without a net." It wasn't until Gale's first visit to the Neurocardiac Clinic that she felt she would get the proper support, she said.

"I remember thinking that I was in a place where I was safe and I would be taken care of," Gale said. "Those are the big things that I remember from my first visit with them."

Gale's first day at the clinic consisted mainly of a variety of neurological tests, she said. Each of the clinic's patients are first screened for depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder, Agarwal said.

The clinic manages each patient's individual needs post-discharge, Agarwal said. He said that the clinic's staff has made it a mission to stay in near-constant contact with its patients and that he gives out his personal phone number and email address to all his patients in case anything happens.

"If you don't have that kind of relationship with them, they would rather not come to see anybody." Agarwal said. "It's not because they don't want to, it's because of their condition."

The Neurocardiac Clinic also offers treatments such as survivor support groups and offers treatment to survivor's caregivers. Often times people who witness somebody else go through cardiac arrest experience their own trauma, Agarwal said.

The feedback from patients of the clinic has been overwhelmingly positive, Agarwal said. Doctors from as far away as North Carolina have sent patients to the clinic, he said.

"What they did for me was give me the strength and help me to come out of a very emotional time," Gale said. "I think it was just a scary, scary time. So what the clinic did for me was to alleviate that fear as we moved along."

SOURCE: Brendan Krisel, Washington Heights