How do you tell a fit, healthy, athletic teenager they cannot play sport? You explain how they might die.
“When I was 16 I got diagnosed with a heart condition, called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy [HCM]. It’s a genetic disorder, and they told me I couldn’t play any competitive sports,” Paula said carefully. “They said there is a very minor chance of sudden death, well, it happens to—like—to one percent of people!”
Wind the clock forward to a healthy 20-year-old attending Purdue University. She is active and energetic, running most mornings to the workout facility from her sorority house. “I never had any issues before—I mean—I definitely had symptoms of the disease but nothing major. So I was doing my normal morning routine, I remember going outside and thinking it was cool. Next I remember waking up in the ICU, trying to get out of my intubation!” Paula said with a laugh.
She had been running past a couple of college campus police officers, who saw her collapse.
“[They] thought I was a college kid trying to pull a trick on them at six in the morning!” Paula said.
Paramedics were called, CPR begun and when they arrived Paula was shocked just the one time.
“They said I was in ventricular fibrillation for less than a minute. So I was extremely lucky.” Paula said. “I was truly blessed that day, because it happened in front of people who were emergency responders.”
She was transported to hospital where she eventually received an ICD, with it’s attendant scar—physically and emotionally. A lovely young girl with a bright future gets a nasty wound in her chest, and new limitations to her activities. Although, Paula doesn’t mind it so much these days.
She has had four further “episodes” and the shocks saved her life each time.
“I will tell you I hate it when it shocks me. It’s the worst feeling in the world.” Paula said, explaining that in a hospital setting they sedate patients before cardioversion!
However, this “one-percenter” certainly isn’t looking back. She is now a hospital pharmacist and is enrolled for an ACLS** class so she can perform the same miracles of modern-day re-animation.
* Paula Opheim Milliner is a past member of the Sudden Cardiac Arrest Foundation Board of Directors.
** ACLS Advanced Cardiac Life Support - This certification is for healthcare professionals who either direct or participate in the management of cardiopulmonary arrest or other cardiovascular emergencies. This includes personnel in emergency response, emergency medicine, intensive care and critical care units such as physicians, nurses, and paramedics. The course takes about 13.5 hours and includes a written and practical exam.