Lee Cooper, 30, was in the peak of health. Young, strong and active, the biotech executive ate a healthy diet and ran upwards of eight or nine miles in a day. But none of that mattered in the wee hours of the morning on December 19, 2016, when Lee’s wife Caitlin woke up with a start to find him gasping for breath. He had gone into cardiac arrest.
Caitlin immediately called 9-1-1 and performed CPR on Lee until paramedics arrived. After several minutes, they were able to re-start his heart and then rushed him to Tufts Medical Center, where he was admitted to the Cardiac Care Unit. When Lee regained consciousness two days later, his cardiac function began to improve.
“Caitlin is really the hero here. She saved his life,” said Co-Director of the New England Cardiac Arrhythmia Center Munther Homoud, MD. “If she had not woken up and performed CPR, Lee likely would have died, or at least suffered significant permanent neurological impairment.”
Through genetic testing, Lee was diagnosed with a rare hereditary disease called Long QT syndrome, an abnormality of the heart rhythm which can sometimes lead to sudden cardiac arrest. Although Lee had not been previously diagnosed with Long QT, he had a strong family history of the condition.
“It’s very uncommon to see young, healthy adults with Long QT go into sudden cardiac arrest,” said Dr. Homoud. “The condition is usually identified much earlier, usually in the teenage years. We don’t often see newly diagnosed cases in young adults.”
Dr. Homoud implanted a cardiac defibrillator in Lee’s chest to shock his heart and restore normal rhythm should he experience a similar episode in the future. Having the defibrillator requires Lee to be seen twice yearly in clinic, and the defibrillator will need to be replaced once every six or seven years. Lee also will need to carry a special card when traveling so he is not asked to walk through a magnetic field. In addition, he will need to take beta blocker medication every day for the rest of his life to help prevent a recurrence of his life-threatening arrhythmia. From Lee’s perspective, all things considered, these are small sacrifices to make.
“The doctors told me that nine out of every 10 people die from out of hospital cardiac arrest and survivors often have mental or physical disability,” he said. “My life has been affected – I won’t play competitive team sports again and I need to avoid certain medications that can prolong the QT interval - but I’m lucky to be alive. I am extremely grateful for the care I received and thankful to be able to return to my job. I have the ability to go back to doing all the things I enjoy doing and my life goals remain very much within reach.”
Those future plans include starting a family, so Dr. Homoud referred Lee and Caitlin to a pediatric cardiac electrophysiologist at Tufts Children's Hospital at Tufts Medical Center to discuss the potential of their children inheriting Long QT syndrome, and the steps to prevent and treat those risks.
CPR saves lives. If you do not know how to perform CPR and would like to learn how, visit the American Heart Association website to find the location of a CPR education class near you.