The Kowalsky’s Story

Aug 10, 2023 | Patients and Families

The Kowalsky family’s medical journey began innocuously. When young Atley Kowalsky started displaying consistent nighttime coughing, his parents, Adam and Susan, like any concerned caregivers, sought medical advice. Initial suspicions pointed to asthma. However, standard treatments proved ineffective, leading them to consider potential allergies as the culprit. It was during this routine check-up that an allergist detected an irregular heartbeat in Atley. This discovery led to a cardiologist referral, and subsequently, a series of events that introduced the Kowalsky family to a diagnosis of Brugada Syndrome.

An ensuing ECG revealed that Atley suffered from an arrhythmia, which soon escalated, causing his heart rate to fluctuate alarmingly, even ceasing to beat for six and a half seconds at one point. Doctors were puzzled. They dove into a complex process, testing the family to determine if the condition was genetic. The father, Adam, was brought back for more tests, hinting at a potential genetic link. The medical team considered the possibility of a cardiac channel disease for Atley. Ultimately, the seriousness of Atley’s condition required the implantation of a pacemaker.

Subsequent genetic tests unveiled a significant revelation: Brugada Syndrome. The family’s deep dive into their genetics unveiled its prevalence among them. Colette, the four-year-old sibling, tested positive, while the older brother Henry did not. This discovery triggered a family-wide campaign for genetic awareness, prompting many relatives to undergo testing. This intensive effort spotlighted an extensive genetic predisposition, impacting up to 14 family members.

Adam was equipped with an S-ICD to monitor and manage his condition, while Atley’s journey continued with a pacemaker. Colette remains symptom-free but undergoes rigorous annual cardiac evaluations.

But the Kowalskys’ journey wasn’t solely clinical; they faced significant emotional and practical adjustments. The diagnosis introduced heightened anxiety to routine occurrences. What once were dismissed as minor ailments, such as common colds or fevers, now held implications linked to Brugada Syndrome—a condition affecting the heart’s sodium channels and known to precipitate sudden cardiac arrest, especially during fever episodes.

Advocacy became a crucial part of their lives, particularly in daily environments like schools. Family members, such as Susan, became advocates, drafting cardiac arrest plans for educational institutions, tapping into invaluable resources from the SADS Foundation, and ensuring schools recognized the importance of specific over-the-counter medications for their children.

Advocacy became a crucial part of their lives, particularly in daily environments like schools.

As we observe Brugada Syndrome Awareness Month, stories like the Kowalskys’ stand out. Their journey, punctuated by challenges and resilience, underscores the importance of elevating patient and family voices. Such narratives humanize the experiences associated with Brugada Syndrome and are integral to our advocacy efforts. Central to our mission is fostering community, solidarity, and understanding among those grappling with SADS conditions.