Cats are said to have nine lives, but one woman in the US has improved that saying by coming back from the dead ten times.
The 63-year-old retired teacher suffers from hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) – a heart muscle disease that affects one in 500 Americans and Britons.
When doctors diagnosed her in 2003, she was fitted with an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD) – a device that restarts the heart if it stops beating.
They are usually used only once in a patient’s lifetime, if at all.
But an unidentified woman from Duluth, Minnesota, has been rescued ten times in 19 years.
On one occasion her heart stopped beating for 18 seconds.
Doctors at Tufts Medical Center in Boston, Massachusetts, said her case demonstrates the “strength and resilience of life-sustaining devices.”
Danish footballer Christian Eriksen was fitted with an ICD after he collapsed when his heart stopped beating for five minutes during a European Championship match against Finland last May.
The 63-year-old retired teacher suffers from hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) – a heart muscle disease that affects one in 500 Americans and Britons. When doctors diagnosed her in 2003, she was fitted with an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) – a device that jump-starts the heart if it stops beating.
An unidentified mother from Duluth, Minnesota, had her heart beat 10 times in 19 years with an ICD. An electrogram — data from an ICD (pictured) — shows her heart stopped beating for 18 seconds during one near-death experience that occurred at 4 a.m. The device shocked her heart and returned it to a normal rhythm
The doctors who treated her at Tufts Medical Center said the case is “particularly impressive” because only one-third of the 125 HCM patients treated at their hospital need their ICD more than once in their lifetime. Even then, most will experience only one to three near-death experiences
WHAT IS HYPERTROPHIC CARDIOMYOPATHY?
Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) is an inherited disease of your heart muscle where the muscle wall of your heart becomes thicker.
It is a genetic condition caused by a change or mutation in one or more genes and is passed down through families.
It affects one in 500 Britons and Americans. A child of someone with HCM has a 50% chance of inheriting the condition.
It happens when the muscle wall of the heart becomes stronger, which can cause the heart muscle to stiffen.
This can make it harder for your heart to pump blood out of your heart and around your body.
Its main symptoms are shortness of breath, chest pain, palpitations and dizziness. Most sufferers have few or no symptoms and lead normal lives.
Abnormal heart rhythms and infections of the inner lining of the heart can develop as a result of HCM.
There is a rare risk of developing a life-threatening abnormal heart rhythm that can cause cardiac arrest and sudden death.
Source: British Heart Foundation
HCM causes the heart muscle to become excessively thick and stiff, making it difficult to pump blood out of the heart and around the body.
It is caused by genetic mutations and is passed down through families.
A child of someone with HCM has a 50% chance of inheriting the condition.
Its main symptoms are shortness of breath, chest pain, palpitations and dizziness.
Most sufferers have few or no symptoms and lead normal lives.
But a small group are at risk of developing life-threatening arrhythmia – an abnormal heartbeat that can cause it to stop suddenly – putting them at risk of death.
Triggers can be stress, exercise, caffeine or other drugs.
HCM used to be the most common cause of sudden death, but the introduction of ICDs caused a dramatic drop in rates.
Doctors in The American Journal of Cardiology described the case as an “extreme example” of the power of the tiny matchbox-sized machines.
Doctors from Tufts Medical Center led by cardiologist Dr. Barry Maron was diagnosed with HCM in July 2003 when she was 44 years old.
After her son was diagnosed with the condition, she was sent for a scan which revealed parts of her heart were twice as strong as they should be.
Despite early detection of HCM, she was at risk of sudden death as her two brothers died of the condition when they were just 20 and 34 years old.
So she had an ICD implanted in August 2003.
It is surgically inserted under the skin, usually in the space just below the collarbone.
Thin wires connect the ICD to the heart, where it always checks the heart rate and rhythm.
If an ICD detects a dangerous heart rhythm, it sends a series of low-voltage electrical pulses at high speed to try to correct the heart rhythm.
In extreme cases, it acts as a defibrillator, sending large electrical shocks to get the heart pumping again.
Danish footballer Christian Eriksen (pictured) was fitted with an ICD during a European Championship game against Finland last May after collapsing when his heart stopped beating for five minutes.
Over the next 19 years, the patient suffered life-threatening ventricular fibrillation—an irregular heartbeat—ten times.
The first incident occurred just 17 months after the device was installed.
In five cases, the woman was asleep. It’s not clear if she noticed, but most patients don’t.
During the events, she lost consciousness when this happened.
Data collected from the ICD shows her heart stopped beating for 18 seconds – believed to be the longest – during her ninth near-death experience, which happened at 4am.
The device shocked her heart and returned it to a normal rhythm. A heartbeat must be restored within three minutes to limit death.
Despite her close contact with death, the woman has no other symptoms of HCM.
The doctors wrote: “This unique case presentation underscores the power and durability of the ICD to sustain life in patients with HCM.
“Indeed, in our patient, the ICD has demonstrated consistent reliability for nearly two decades.”
They said the case was “particularly impressive” because the device never improperly shocked her or caused any other complications.
And only one-third of HCM patients need their ICD more than once in their lifetime. Even then, most will experience only one to three near-death experiences.
“Therefore, to experience 10 independent instrumental interventions is extraordinary and probably unprecedented in HCM practice,” the health professionals added.
They called for wider use of ICDs even among those who have only one risk factor for developing the disease, such as their family members.