Every day clinicians and patients at Rush face moments of great challenge and great inspiration. During this time of giving thanks, they’re sharing what they are thankful for and how their experiences at Rush have inspired them.
Gary Schaer, MD
By Gary Schaer, MD
Heart disease is not a death sentence. Even if you’ve survived a heart attack, proper medical therapy and lifestyle modifications can allow you to have an excellent quality of life — and a long life. Surviving a heart attack can be a second chance.
Recently, I cared for a previously healthy, 42-year-old firefighter who came in after having a cardiac arrest in the field. His fellow firefighters brought him to Rush University Medical Center, and he arrested again upon his arrival. He was having a heart attack and we took him directly to the cardiac catheterization lab to fix a severely blocked artery.
When I came out of the cath lab to tell his wife that he was going to be fine, there were at least 20 firefighters and police officers waiting outside. I’d never seen anything like it. I walked through the parting huddle of police officers and firefighters all looking very grim, and they pointed me to his wife, who was stricken and expecting the worst. When I said he would be fine, she hugged me and the firefighters introduced me to his young son. It was wonderful to be able to deliver good news about a young guy with so much potential, so much life ahead of him and so many people caring and depending on him. I was pretty choked up by the whole thing.
The cardiac arrest death of Bears defensive end Gaines Adams may have you asking, “How can a young and fit professional athlete suddenly die of a heart-related condition?”
Sudden death in professional athletes is shocking. Professional athletes are particularly thought of as healthy having been the best at what they do since childhood and having the ability to withstand the rigors of training and making it to highest level of their sport. They are seemingly invincible.
In the U.S., the most common cause of sudden death in athletes is hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM). This is often referred to as an “enlarged heart.” The pathology in this condition is an abnormal thickening of the heart muscle which can potentially lead to an electrical instability, referred to as cardiac arrest. When cardiac arrest occurs, if a normal rhythm is not restored promptly, death often occurs.
Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy can span the spectrum of asymptomatic to severely symptomatic. Some clues could be chest pain, shortness of breath, unexplained dizzy spells or passing out. A family history can also be important.
Screening for this condition can be difficult if there are no symptoms, family history or ECG abnormalities to suggest the diagnosis. An echocardiogram (heart ultrasound) can help to make the diagnosis. However, in large, tall individuals the enlarged heart may be a normal finding due to being a highly trained athlete or may just be normal for the individual’s size. Continue reading →