Elle is getting back on track after suffering from ventricular fibrillation
By Andrea Nagel
On July 31, after a long day of work, Elle Susnis went to dinner following a late meeting. Everything seemed normal. She met up with friends at a favorite Sandpoint pub and was enjoying their time together.
While at the restaurant, Elle said she went blue in the face and had to lie down on the floor. A friend instructed the staff to call 911.
Elle was resuscitated at Bonner General Hospital and was then flown to Kootenai Health on Life Flight. She was admitted to critical care and placed in a hypothermic coma to help preserve her brain function while our providers worked to stabilize her heart. Therapeutic hypothermia helps preserve brain cells by reducing the need for oxygen and blood flow to the brain. Another benefit of reducing blood fl ow to the brain is the prevention of harmful enzymes created during cardiac arrest that could cause damage.
Kootenai Health is the only hospital in the area that is able to continually track brain activity in hypothermia patients in real time (the next closest is in Salt Lake City). Kootenai’s neurodiagnostics team is notified within 10 seconds if a hypothermia patient’s brain is going into crisis.
“Unfortunately, even in this day and age, most patients do not survive ventricular fibrillation when it occurs outside the hospital,” said Eteri Byazrova, M.D., cardiologist with Kootenai’s Heart Clinics Northwest. “Immediate treatment is to apply electrical shock to the patient’s chest called defibrillation. The sooner it is done, the better chances of survival are. After arrival at the hospital, external cooling (called hypothermia) may be used to reduce the amount of damage to the brain caused by cardiac arrest.”
Once she awoke, Elle had to relearn basic tasks such as eating, drinking and walking. After working with therapists and nurses in critical care, Elle’s heart condition could be more fully diagnosed and treated. Ventricular fibrillation is a life-threatening condition where the cells of the lower chambers of the heart contract chaotically, at rates over 300 beats per minute.
“Normally heart muscle contracts and relaxes at rates between 40 and 180 beats per minute,” Dr. Byazrova said. “Very rapid rates do not allow heart muscle to relax so the heart essentially stops. This arrhythmia usually occurs as a complication of acute or remote heart attack. Less commonly they result from prior viral infection of the heart or one of several inheritable conditions. Very rarely, as in Elle’s case, it can occur without any of these. We call it idiopathic ventricular fibrillation.”
To treat this condition, Dr. Byazrova inserted a defibrillator under the skin in Elle’s chest. It can determine within 15 to 18 seconds if Elle has any abnormal heart rhythm activity and provide an electric shock that helps the heart return to a normal rhythm. Elle said she is thankful for the care she received and is happy that after just six weeks she was able to return to work and get back to her normal life with her 10-year-old son.
“Everyone was remarkable,” Elle said. “I received good care every step of the way. Every part made it possible for me to get back to my son and back to our life.”
Put Your Heart in Good Hands
For more information about Kootenai’s Heart Clinics Northwest or to schedule an appointment, call their Spokane office at (509) 838-7711 or the Coeur d’Alene office at (208) 625-5250.