Tachycardia (Fast Heartbeat)
When Jeff was 15 years old, he endured the unthinkable. His older brother collapsed and stopped breathing after carrying a load of plywood up to the shop at the family's rural home. Jeff's father performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) while waiting for the ambulance to arrive in a desperate attempt to save his oldest son's life. When the ambulance arrived, it was not equipped with an automated external defibrillator (AED), which potentially could have saved his brother's life. Sadly, Jeff's brother died at the age of 18.
Jeff's brother had experienced ventricular fibrillation (VF), a dangerously fast heart rhythm. For a person experiencing VF, lifesaving shock therapy must be delivered within minutes to prevent SCD.
Just three years earlier, Jeff, along with his brother and their mother, had been diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) – a genetic disease in which the heart muscle thickens abnormally. The thickened heart muscle can interfere with the heart's electrical system, increasing the risk for life-threatening abnormal heartbeats (arrhythmias) that may lead to SCA.
Shortly after his brother's death, Jeff's parents lobbied local government officials to purchase an AED for the area's ambulance. Their offer to pay for half of the AED was accepted, and they took some comfort knowing that the AED may protect Jeff and other town members from potentially fatal heart rhythm events.
One year following Jeff's brother's death, implantable defibrillators became available to people with heart rhythm disorders. At that time, Jeff's heart wall appeared to be thickening and getting worse. While his cardiologist didn't feel that an implantable defibrillator was necessary yet, he advised that Jeff stop playing sports for fear that he would experience a dangerously fast heart rhythm that may lead to sudden cardiac arrest and sudden cardiac death.
“I went from playing just about every sport to playing none overnight. It was tough for a few months, but I took it in stride.” Instead, Jeff found other hobbies that were still physical but didn't cause his heart to race, including hunting, fishing, and even drag-car racing filled that void.
By the time Jeff was 17, his heart wall had thickened to the point that his cardiologist believed Jeff was now at serious risk for SCA and that an implantable defibrillator was necessary to help protect him.
In October 1996, at the age of 17, Jeff became one of the youngest patients to receive an implantable defibrillator.
Now 28, Jeff has received lifesaving shock therapy on several occasions. Jeff describes shock therapy as uncomfortable, but worth it.
More than ten years after receiving his first heart device, Jeff has shared his experience with children who have recently received implantable defibrillators. “I'm able to show them that it's really just an everyday part of life and you can have a normal life.”
Jeff continues to take medication to help manage his heart condition and is thankful for his implantable defibrillator.
Jeff is happily married and has a young daughter. He coaches his daughter's soccer team and works full-time as a heavy-equipment mechanic. He also enjoys fishing and hunting with friends and, on occasion, traveling to the Colorado Rocky Mountains to hunt elk.
Jeff is happy to be able to lead an active life again. Results may vary and you need to talk to your doctor about the benefits and risks of device therapy.
“Thanks to my implantable defibrillator, my condition doesn't slow me down.”
This story reflects one person's experience. Not every person will receive the same results. Talk to your doctor about your treatment options.