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Heart Insurance for Katie

Implanted defibrillator protects young mom against sudden cardiac arrest repeat

The kids had just gone down for an afternoon nap and last March 24 was moving along just like most days for Catasauqua mother of two Katie Young. Then, without warning, her heart stopped.

“My husband says I turned and looked at him and said I felt lightheaded,” Katie says. “His first thought was that I was having a seizure, but it turned out to be my heart. His initial reaction was to do CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation).”

Adam Young, who is CPR certified, called 911 while performing CPR on his wife, and Northampton Regional EMS responded within minutes, along with Catasauqua police and fire departments and North Catasauqua fire department.

As the EMS crew left the Youngs’ home, Adam says one in the crew told him they had a heartbeat again. “That meant everything to me,” Adam says.

Did you know?

Premature ventricular complexes (PVC) are common among the general population. Young and healthy adults have shown a highly similar frequency rate of PVCs in contrast to older adults. Source: National Institutes of Health

What happened over the next minutes, hours, days and weeks was a medical odyssey that saw Katie’s heart shocked back to life numerous times, an intensive care stay filled with complications including pneumonia and blood clots in her lungs and legs, and a procedure to implant a defibrillator.

“They don’t know why it happened,” says Katie, 37. “I have no history of heart problems. I’m very healthy and never really had to go to the doctor.” Katie stayed home that day from her job as an outpatient coding analyst for Lehigh Valley Health Network (LVHN) because she wasn’t feeling well. Her 3-year-old daughter hadn’t been feeling well either.

Nidhi Mehta, MD, with Lehigh Valley Heart and Vascular Institute, was one of the first to treat Katie when she arrived at the Lehigh Valley Hospital (LVH)–Muhlenberg emergency room. Dr. Mehta says Katie’s sudden cardiac arrest was idiopathic, meaning there was no established link to explain what happened. “Her heart function was completely normal when she arrived at the Lehigh Valley Hospital–Muhlenberg emergency room,” Dr. Mehta says. Katie was stabilized and transferred to LVH–Cedar Crest. At LVH–Muhlenberg, doctors had started the process of temperature management, in which Katie’s body was cooled to help preserve brain function.

“Cases likes Katie’s are rare, and they’re challenging because you’re unsure how to guard against future occurrences,” Dr. Mehta says, adding that the defibrillator is designed to shock Katie’s heart back into rhythm should it suddenly stop again as it did last year. “It will prevent her from dying from a potentially fatal ventricle tachycardia,” she says.

Katie, who lost her father to a heart attack, had given birth to her son six months earlier, but Dr. Mehta says Katie’s cardiac arrest had no connection to the pregnancy. A cardiac catheterization done when she reached the hospital had shown no blockages.

“The importance of hands-only CPR is absolutely critical in this situation, and loved ones, any bystander, can be involved in that.” Nidhi Mehta, MD, Lehigh Valley Heart and Vascular Institute

Cardiologist and electrophysiologist Sergio Cossu, MD, was one of the doctors who cared for Katie at LVH–Cedar Crest. Dr. Cossu says Katie had idiopathic premature ventricular complexes, which means her heart was producing an extra heartbeat. Normally, that’s not a problem, but Dr. Cossu says Katie’s extra beats were coming from an area in her right ventricle (one of the heart’s bottom chambers), which can be very dangerous and cause a lethal irregular heartbeat.

“Maybe it never happens again, but if it does, it’s (implanted defibrillator) there. She’s got an insurance policy. She’s actually in better shape than we are in that respect,” Dr. Cossu says.

After leaving the hospital, Katie was in physical therapy for the entire summer to regain strength and stamina. It would be months before she drove her car again.

“I’m grateful that I’m still here,” Katie says. “It was life-changing for sure.”

Katie says her caregivers at LVHN were “absolutely amazing” and were a tremendous help in explaining things to her family as she underwent treatment.

Emotional reunion with EMS, doctors

Katie, Adam and their two children recently reunited at Northampton Regional EMS headquarters with those who had a hand in saving Katie. From EMS to firefighters to Lehigh Valley Heart and Vascular Institute cardiologists, it was a day for hugs and handshakes.

“In her situation, the cards fell in all the right places,” says Mark Lehman, a paramedic with Northampton Regional EMS who was one of those on the scene the day Katie collapsed. Lehman says the Katie Young reunion was the first time he’d ever reunited with someone he’d saved. “It’s an emotional day. It’s a really great thing to see such a positive outcome like this.”

Lehman and others at the reunion stressed the importance of CPR. “When we got there, one of the firefighters also was doing CPR. It was that early start that changed the outcome,” Lehman says.

Eric Elgin, MD, Chief of Cardiology for the Heart and Vascular Institute, told the reunion gathering that Katie’s case was a prime example of the success of the true chain of survival. “As much as I think we are great at delivering care once they get to our hands, they have to get into our hands,” Dr. Elgin says in praising the emergency care delivered by everyone in advance of Katie arriving at the emergency room doors.

“Loved ones were a key piece, along with the EMS crew, in getting her to that point (hospital care),” Dr. Mehta says. “The importance of hands-only CPR is absolutely critical in this situation, and loved ones, any bystander, can be involved in that.”

“I want to say thank you to everyone,” Adam Young says . “I wouldn’t have my best friend right now if it wasn’t for all of you.” Adam and Katie met when they were 16 and worked as lifeguards at the same pool. That’s also where both learned CPR for the first time. “I owe everyone here, everything,” Adam says.

“It was emotional. It felt good,” Katie says of the reunion.

SPIRIT Clinic assistance

After her release from the hospital, Katie was contacted by LVHN’s SPIRIT Clinic, designed to help post-ICU patients recover to their full potential as soon as possible.

The clinic team reviews a patient’s ICU stay and screens for post-intensive care syndrome (PICS), which can include symptoms such as weakness, breathing difficulties, anxiety and depression. They work together to identify any needs, place appropriate referrals, provide medication education and offer additional supportive resources.

“I had never heard of it, and I thought it was really cool,” Katie says. The SPIRIT Clinic staff took her through her treatment at LVHN and answered any questions she had about her hospital stay. “We went step by step until the day I was discharged,” Katie says. As part of her visit, Katie made a thank-you video for her ICU nurses. “I hope you wake up every day knowing what an impact you have made,” Katie says in the video.

“The SPIRIT Clinic has the resources to assist post-ICU patients in many ways, depending on their needs,” says pulmonologist Dotti Watson, DO, clinic leader. “With Katie, it was helping her to understand all she’d been through and to let her know about all the resources we could connect her with, should they be needed.”

Lehigh Valley Heart and Vascular Institute

Lehigh Valley Heart and Vascular Institute

Preventing and treating heart disease

The Heart and Vascular Institute is comprised of several multidisciplinary teams working together to treat complex conditions of the heart.

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