A new heart at 14
Chapter 1 The fall
Bruno Lanthier was sitting in the hospital waiting room when he heard someone falling. He jumped up and ran to the examination room, where his son, Olivier, was doing a respiratory function test. He found him on the ground, unconscious. He immediately began CPR while waiting for the cardiology team to arrive.
That was Olivier Lanthier’s first cardiac arrest, in 2019. He was 14 years old. Fortunately, his father and the medical team were able to react quickly and save his life. Unfortunately, Olivier was not new to heart disease.
At birth, Olivier was diagnosed with heart failure. During the first years of his life, he had to take a number of medications every day and had to learn how to live with left ventricular hypertrophy. He needed three open-heart surgeries before he was five, until a mechanical valve was installed.
“As a child, I thought that my scar proved that I was a superhero,” says Olivier.
When he started elementary school, Olivier felt like he was different from the other kids, with limits they didn’t have. “My parents always told me that I could try anything I wanted as long as there was no contact. So I played a bunch of sports, like hockey and baseball, but I had much less endurance and I was out of breath very quickly. I had to stop after a few minutes.”
Chapter 2 The calm before the storm
As a child, Olivier also had to deal with Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome, an electrical problem between the chambers of his heart that led to episodes of tachycardia or speeding heart rate. “My heart could sometimes reach 260 beats per minute. I had to get shocks at the hospital to bring my heart rate back to normal.”
At age 12, the tachycardia stopped so Olivier thought everything was fine. The respite lasted two years, but ended abruptly one day at school, when he started feeling unwell. “I thought I was going to pass out, and my heart seemed to stop for a split second. I didn’t know what was going on.”
Fortunately, Olivier had a routine appointment the next day. During a lung test, the 14-year-old pushed himself as hard as he could, past his limit. That’s when his heart stopped — and his father and the cardiology team saved his life.
In the following hours, Olivier had two more cardiac arrests. His heart was very unstable, so he had emergency surgery to implant a pacemaker. “My dad and mom called my family to let them know about my condition and tell them to come to the hospital. I really wanted to see my sister.”
Two months after the operation, Olivier was still in the hospital. Despite the pacemaker, his heart continued to deteriorate and his organs were beginning to fail. He needed a heart transplant. “I’ve always been an optimist,” he says. “ I told myself I’d get a new heart in time.”
Chapter 3 Living his best life
On the last possible day before he would have needed a mechanical heart, Olivier got the news that there was a heart for him. “It’s impossible to put into words the emotions I was experiencing. I was relieved and very happy. It was the best day of my life!”
Two years after this second chance, Olivier, now 16, says he has a perfect life, a dream life. His new heart has given him new self-confidence. “For you, it’s just everyday life. For me, it’s a life without restrictions, where anything is possible. I can walk without being out of breath or worrying about fainting. I can even work out. My life is perfect.”
Looking back on everything he has been through, Olivier says that he wouldn’t change anything, even if he could. “My heart problems have given me a different outlook on life. I know that I’m not invincible, but I have to live my life to the fullest. My heart problems have also brought me much closer to my family. Especially my dad — I’m very close to him. My dad’s my best friend.”
With his parents by his side, his courage, and will to live, Olivier can overcome anything and beat heart disease.