As Alexandra (Alex) Lucas and her mom raced down a grocery store aisle for an urgent visit to the bathroom, they found themselves in a very different kind of emergency situation. Upon entering a stall, Alex, just 5 years old, went into cardiac arrest.
“Alex fell face-first onto the floor. I thought she must have tripped going in, but when I helped her up she was stiff as a board. She wasn’t breathing and started snorting,” said Lori Lucas, Alex’s mom. “I yelled for help and a couple women ran out of the bathroom to get someone. In a second, I was surrounded by people.”
The people were fast-acting Boardman Giant Eagle staff members. Christine Kennedy facilitated as Tiffany Adkins began chest compressions. Sarah Jeffrey started counting out loud and instructing Lori when to breathe into Alex’s mouth. As the group performed CPR, store manager, Chris Spencer, rushed in with an AED (automated external defibrillators), a portable device designed to shock the heart and restore a normal heart rhythm.
“He asked me if he could use it on Alex. I was a little worried because she is so little, but I knew the CPR wasn’t working so I said yes right away,” said Lori. “He shocked her and 30 seconds later she started crying. Her face was gray and pupils dilated. The paramedics arrived seconds later.”
Alex was transported to Akron Children’s Mahoning Valley. Upon arrival, staff members began running tests, including an EKG, to better assess Alex’s condition. After consulting with physicians at the Akron campus, Alex was diagnosed with CPVT, catecholaminergic polymorphic ventricular tachycardia, a rare, inherited abnormal heart rhythm.
With CPVT, when the heart rate increases in response to physical activity or emotional stress, it can trigger an abnormally fast heartbeat that doesn’t allow the heart enough time to fill between beats. As a result, not enough blood gets pumped to the body, causing severe symptoms such as dizziness, loss of consciousness and even death.
“Alex has always been healthy and active, and we don’t have a family history of heart issues so we were shocked that any of this was happening,” added Lori.
Alex was transported to the Akron Children’s main campus in Akron where she spent several days in the pediatric intensive care unit before Robert Stewart, MD, chief, cardiothoracic surgery and cardiovascular surgeon, surgically placed an implantable defibrillator that constantly monitors Alex’s heart rhythm and is standing by 24/7 to shock (defibrillate) her heart out of a potentially lethal rhythm.
The value of AEDs
The National Institutes of Health estimates that 18,000 Americans have shockable cardiac arrest outside of hospitals and in public with witnesses. They estimate that 1,700 lives are saved each year by bystanders using an AED rather than waiting for emergency medical services to shock the heart.
John Clark, MD, FAAP, director, pediatric arrhythmia center and pediatric cardiologist with Akron Children’s, who sees Alex for ongoing care and device checks, says Alex’s experience highlights the important role AEDs play in saving lives.
“The odds of a person in cardiac arrest getting an AED after only one round of CPR is very rare, and most certainly helped save Alex’s life,” said Dr. Clark. “I can’t emphasize enough the importance of having access to AEDs. Chances of survival decrease by about 10% for every minute that passes without CPR and a shock from a defibrillator. Thanks to Alex’s mom and the staff at Giant Eagle, Alex survived so we were able to do our part to treat her condition so she can continue to thrive and live life like a typical 5-year-old does, with boundless energy.”
Today, Alex is healthy, happy and back home anxiously awaiting Dr. Clark’s clearance to get back to the activities she enjoys most – baseball, soccer and jumping on her trampoline.
“We are beyond thankful to everyone who has helped us,” said Lori. “The people at Akron Children’s were unbelievable in their care to Alex and their support for our whole family. To the people at Giant Eagle, we owe them our life; our Alex is here because of them and I’m not sure how I’ll ever be able to thank them enough for what they did.”