Jennette experienced Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA) in December of 2022 while having the flu. She survived – and in hospital was diagnosed with Brugada Syndrome.
“The cardiac arrest and heart disease diagnosis was a huge shock on me and my family. I’m grateful to be alive!” she says.
“Calling 911, CPR, and an AED saved my life. When people think about SCA, they don’t always realize that the survival rate for out-of-hospital arrests, like mine, is less than 10%. It’s taken a lot of determination to move forward; I never dreamt this would be my life’s story. I’m thankful for family, friends, and this precious life I’ve been given. Because I look healthy and fit, people don’t realize that I have a heart condition with such a huge impact on my life.”
It was the onset of the Christmas holiday season, and I fell ill with a fever, accompanied by nausea and intense pain in my head. As dizziness overcame me, I reached out to a family member who drove me to the clinic. The doctor performed a quick examination and prescribed antibiotics. Recognizing my unwell condition, my family insisted I stay with them overnight as I was currently living alone. At around 4 a.m., a family member remarkably heard me take what they later described as an “agonal breath” – a sign that my body wasn’t getting enough oxygen, and I was on the brink of death. Rushing to my aid, they found me partially off the bed, cold, and unresponsive.
They immediately summoned another family member who checked for a pulse and attempted to awaken me. I was in a state of ventricular tachycardia. I faintly recall hearing someone say, “Jenny, you have to look at me,” but beyond that, I have no recollection of the incident. Immediately they dialed 911, and in just eight minutes, EMS and fire personnel arrived. I had coded and gone into sudden cardiac arrest – a sudden loss of heart function causing blood flow to stop to the brain and other vital organs. EMS administered CPR and utilized an Automated External Defibrillator (AED) to resuscitate me. The quick actions of calling 911, performing CPR, and using an AED saved my life. There is only a 7.7% survival rate for out-of-hospital cardiac arrest patients who receive emergency response. I’m grateful to be alive and deeply appreciative to my family and the first responders, with a special acknowledgement to the EMS team.
The hospital stay that followed brought a diagnosis: Brugada Syndrome – a rare inherited heart disease that triggers sudden cardiac death through ventricular tachycardia or ventricular fibrillation. The disease is an electrical signaling problem of my heart. Brugada Syndrome can render individuals susceptible to arrhythmias at any time, but more likely when triggered by factors such as fever, dehydration, and specific medications. My previous medical history included septic shock, which led to a series of cardiology tests during my hospitalization and subsequent follow-up appointments. Regrettably, the signs of Brugada were overlooked in each examination.
After my condition stabilized, I underwent surgery to receive a subcutaneous implantable cardioverter defibrillator (S-ICD) – a device that continually monitors my heartbeat and administers electric shocks when necessary to restore a regular heart rhythm and prevent sudden cardiac death. Living with an S-ICD has meant discomfort, lifestyle modifications, and ongoing medical monitoring. Despite the adjustments, I gladly embrace this life-saving technology, as it enables me to lead a modified life while managing Brugada.
The days following my hospital release were spent mostly confined to bed as I underwent recovery, followed by cardiac rehabilitation. Initially, even a short walk left me drenched in sweat and feeling fatigue due to my weakened heart. It takes at least a year for the heart to regain its strength following cardiac arrest. This was a significant shift for me as I was used to an active lifestyle. Additionally, the trauma of the cardiac arrest has long-lasting consequences, as survivors often struggle with several health challenges including cognitive dysfunction, reduced well-being, and musculoskeletal impairment. Having a support system, including family, friends, and healthcare professionals is essential for well-being and managing cardiac arrest and Brugada.
After leaving the hospital, I was confronted with the striking reality that Brugada remains largely unfamiliar, even among medical professionals. Furthermore, the medical staff lacked knowledge about the functionality of the heart monitor accompanying my S-ICD. Moreover, a general lack of understanding prevailed regarding cardiac arrest and its distinction from a heart attack, and the profound impact it has on an individual’s life, especially when coupled with a heart disease. This lack of knowledge and awareness prompted me to embark on a journey of advocacy. Seeking knowledge about Brugada, I researched credible cardiology websites and scholarly public health articles. This investigation led me to The Canadian SADS (Sudden Arrhythmia Death Syndrome) Foundation, and SADS Foundation, a resource that not only provided valuable information but also facilitated connections with fellow individuals affected by SADS conditions. My appreciation for both SADS Foundations has deepened, and I am honored to contribute to the collective effort of raising awareness.
While people may perceive me as healthy and fit, the reality is quite different. I navigate life with a heart disease, have endured a cardiac arrest, and rely on an S-ICD for survival. Despite the challenges, I’ve grown a deeper appreciation for the life I lead. Spending time with family and friends has become even more cherished, the ability to engage in activities and enjoy the beautiful outdoors holds a greater significance, and every moment is a treasured gift. I am grateful.
Often, when individuals face a traumatic event, there is an initial response to the emergency. However, it’s essential to recognize that providing support extends far beyond immediate assistance, as the impact is long-lasting. Those affected require ongoing care, understanding, and support. Additionally, it’s important to acknowledge that the event can be challenging for those directly involved, and they, too, experience trauma.