Aneen Conradie and her boyfriend, Philip, had planned to spend a relaxing afternoon at the University of British Columbia Aquatic Centre. Aneen, then a 22-year-old psychology student, was always a bit nervous around water. But when Philip egged her on to jump off a high diving board, she faced the challenge head-on.
As Aneen plunged toward the water, she felt suddenly as if she “didn’t get enough air.” Surfacing, she gasped for air and knew something was wrong. As she lost consciousness, a lazy day suddenly turned into an emergency.
Philip frantically swam towards her and with the help of a lifeguard pulled her out of the pool. Her lips, forehead and chest began to turn purple and blue. Aneen was having a cardiac arrest.
One lifeguard began CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) on Aneen while another ran to get the pool’s defibrillator. They used the device to give her five shocks in 10 minutes before her heart began to beat normally again.
When she came to, Aneen was thinking clearly enough to worry about missing her psychology class. “I think one of the first things I said to my boyfriend was, ‘Can you text that girl from my psych class and tell her I’m not going to be there today!’” She laughs.
Over the next few days, doctors ran tests to figure out what caused her heart to stop. Aneen was young, healthy and active, but her family history gave some clues to this seemingly random attack. A cousin in South Africa has Long QT syndrome.
Cardiologist Dr. Andrew Krahn of UBC was part of the team caring for Aneen. He is also a Heart & Stroke researcher working to reduce the number of lives lost to cardiac arrest (cardiopulmonary arrest).
An estimated 35,000 cardiac arrests occur each year in Canada. When the heart stops, blood flow to the brain and other organs stops. Performing CPR and using an automated external defibrillator (AED) in the first few minutes can more than double the chance of survival.
Dr. Krahn, an expert in cardiac arrhythmias, is using DNA testing to identify people with potentially deadly inherited heart abnormalities. The goal is to develop a test that will make it possible to detect and treat these defects before cardiac arrest can strike.
Other research supported by Heart & Stroke donors is aimed at improving CPR quality quality and increasing the number of people who take action in cardiac emergencies.
A new normal
Aneen was prescribed beta-blockers, drugs to slow her heart rate. And she has an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD), a small device that monitors her heart rhythm and generates an electrical shock if needed to restore a normal rhythm.
Aneen is incredibly grateful for the lifeguards who acted fast by performing CPR and grabbing the AED. “It’s only because the people around me knew how to deal with this situation that I’m here today.”
Aneen and Philip and some friends plan to take a CPR training course.
Her advice to cardiac arrest survivors is to focus on the positive and embrace the future. Aneen’s new diagnosis has not slowed down her adventurous spirit; she plans to do more physical challenges and is planning a bike tour in the Netherlands or Cuba.