Caitlin Cluff didn’t know she would meet her heroes on November 11, 2006, but when she suddenly felt faint and collapsed on the floor, Sarah Bunn and Chantelle Cordon, her two classmates at the Freemont High School in Plain City, Utah, had the courage to take action to save her life. Startled when Caitlin collapsed, they immediately sprang into action and began CPR while other bystanders called 9-1-1. Luckily, Sarah was experienced in CPR, having assisting her mother in CPR training classes many times. She and Chantelle took turns doing rescue breaths and chest compressions until a health teacher and a security guard appeared and took over.
Six or seven minutes later, the EMTs arrived and promptly defibrillated Caitlin’s heart twice to get it back into rhythm. She spent a few days in ICU and when she recovered, the testing for possible brain damage—and the cause of her arrest—began. A week in McKay-Dee Hospital Center ended with Caitlin’s diagnosis—long QT syndrome* —and an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) inserted in her chest to protect her from future life-threatening events.
Long QT: A Genetic Condition
Before her brush with death, Caitlin, who was 16 at the time, was unaware she had a dangerous heart condition. Though her father had passed away in the 1990s from a heart problem later understood to be long QT, there were few indications until that fateful day when she fell to the floor and turned blue.
After Caitlin’s episode, her family was advised to undergo cardiac evaluations and genetic testing. Several family members have low blood pressure and low blood sugar levels, which they thought explained their occasional dizziness. An EKG could have proven otherwise.
When both Caitlin’s older sisters were tested they, too, were found to suffer from long QT, and also received ICDs as a preventative measure. (Fortunately her younger sister does not have the condition, and neither does her mother.) Although Caitlin has not had any further episodes, her sister Andrea has been saved by her ICD several times already.
Caitlin doesn’t look forward to one day receiving a life-saving shock, but she is grateful that she has an ICD protecting her every minute of every day. She regularly uploads the data from the device to her cardiologist’s office every week, just in case it detects something untoward. The device is two years old now, and should last till the end of the decade, when she will need a replacement.
Caitlin says the school districts near her home in Farr West, Utah, are now investigating their options for purchasing AEDs and have conducted CPR training courses for the teachers.
Caitlin has since graduated and is a student at Weber State University.
* Long QT Syndrome (LQTS) is condition that affects the heart’s electrical system and can cause fast, chaotic heartbeats, often resulting in fainting, and in some cases cardiac arrest. These abnormalities in the heart's electrical recharging system can be detected with a simple EKG test, however, the heart's structure is normal. Mutations in three specific genes account for about 75 percent of long QT syndrome.