It’s not just cats that have nine lives! American heart disease patient technically died 10 times

They say cats have nine lives, but one woman in the US has one-upped that expression by coming back from the dead 10 times.

The 63-year-old retired school teacher suffers from hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) — a heart muscle disease that affects one in 500 Americans and Britons. 

She was fitted with an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) — a device that jump-starts the heart if it stops beating — when medics diagnosed her in 2003.

They normally only get used once in a patient’s lifetime, if at all. 

But the unidentified woman, from Duluth in Minnesota, was saved 10 times over the space of 19 years.

Her heart stopped beating for 18 seconds on one occasion.

Doctors at Tufts Medical Center in Boston, Massachusetts, said her case shows the ‘power and durability of the devices’ for preserving life.

Danish footballer Christian Eriksen was fitted with an ICD after he collapsed when his heart stopped beating for five minutes during a European Championship game against Finland last May. 

The 63-year-old retired school teacher suffers from hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) — a heart muscle disease that affects one in 500 Americans and Britons. She was fitted with an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) — a device that jump-starts the heart if it stops beating — when medics diagnosed her in 2003

The unidentified mother from Duluth in Minnesota had her heart jump-started 10 times over 19 years by an ICD. The electrogram — data from the ICD (pictured) — shows that her heart stopped beating for 18 seconds during one near-death experience, which occurred at 4am. The device shocked her heart, restoring it to its normal beat

The unidentified mother from Duluth in Minnesota had her heart jump-started 10 times over 19 years by an ICD. The electrogram — data from the ICD (pictured) — shows that her heart stopped beating for 18 seconds during one near-death experience, which occurred at 4am. The device shocked her heart, restoring it to its normal beat

Doctors who treated her at Tufts Medical Center reported that the case is 'particularly impressive' because only one third of 125 HCM patients treated at their hospital need their ICD more than once in their lifetime. Even then, the majority only experience one to three near-death experiences

Doctors who treated her at Tufts Medical Center reported that the case is ‘particularly impressive’ because only one third of 125 HCM patients treated at their hospital need their ICD more than once in their lifetime. Even then, the majority only experience one to three near-death experiences

WHAT IS HYPERTROPHIC CARDIOMYOPATHY? 

Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) is an inherited disease of your heart muscle, where the muscle wall of your heart becomes thickened.

It is a genetic condition caused by a change or mutation in one or more genes and is passed on through families.

It affects one in 500 Britons and Americans. A child of someone with HCM has a 50 per cent chance of inheriting the condition. 

It happens when the muscular wall of the heart becomes thickened which can make the heart muscle stiff. 

This can make it harder for your heart to pump blood out of your heart and around your body.

Its main symptoms are shortness of breath, chest pain, palpitations and light-headedness. Most sufferers have few or no symptoms and live a normal life.

Abnormal heart rhythms and infections of the heart’s inner lining can develop as a result of HCM.

There is a rare risk of developing a life-threatening abnormal heart rhythm, which can cause a cardiac arrest and sudden death.

Source: British Heart Foundation

HCM causes the heart muscle to become excessively thick and stiff, making it harder to pump blood out of the heart and around the body. 

It is caused by genetic mutations and is passed on through families.

A child of someone with HCM has a 50 per cent chance of inheriting the condition. 

Its main symptoms are shortness of breath, chest pain, palpitations and light-headedness. 

Most sufferers have few or no symptoms and live a normal life.

But a small group are at-risk of developing life-threatening arrhythmia — an abnormal heart beat that can cause it to suddenly stop — so are at risk of death.

Stress, exercise, caffeine or other drugs can be a trigger.

HCM used to be the most common cause of sudden death but the rollout of ICDs has caused the rate to drop dramatically.

Writing in The American Journal of Cardiology, doctors described the case as an ‘extreme example’ of the power of the small machines, which are the size of a matchbox.

Medics at Tufts Medical Center, led by cardiologist Dr Barry Maron, diagnosed the patient with HCM in July 2003, when she was 44-years-old.

After the condition was detected in her son, she was referred for a scan which revealed parts of her heart were twice as thick as they should be. 

Despite the HCM being detected early, she was at risk of sudden death as her two brothers had died from the condition when they were aged just 20 and 34.

So she had an ICD implanted in August 2003. 

It is surgically inserted under the skin, usually in the space just below the collar bone.

Thin wires connect the ICD to the heart, where it’s always checking the heart rate and rhythm. 

If an ICD notices a dangerous heart rhythm it sends a series of low-voltage electrical impulses at a fast rate to try and correct the heart rhythm.

In extreme cases, it acts as a defibrillator, sending large electric shocks to get the heart pumping again.

Danish footballer Christian Eriksen (pictured) was fitted with an ICD after he collapsed when his heart stopped beating for five minutes during a European Championship game against Finland last May

Danish footballer Christian Eriksen (pictured) was fitted with an ICD after he collapsed when his heart stopped beating for five minutes during a European Championship game against Finland last May

Over the following 19 years, the female patient has suffered life-threatening ventricular fibrillation — an irregular heart beat — 10 times.

The first incident was just 17 moths after having the device put in.

On five occasions the woman was asleep. It’s unclear whether she noticed it but most patients don’t.

During the events, she lost consciousness when it happened. 

Data gathered from the ICD shows that her heart stopped beating for 18 seconds — thought to be the longest duration — during her ninth near-death experience, which occurred at 4am. 

The device shocked her heart, restoring it to its normal beat. The heartbeat needs to be restored within three minutes to curtail death.

Despite her close brushes with death, the woman has no other HCM symptoms. 

The doctors wrote: ‘This unique case presentation underscores the power and durability of the ICD for preserving life in patients with HCM. 

‘Indeed, in our patient, the ICD demonstrated consistent reliability over almost two decades.’

They reported that the case is ‘particularly impressive’ because the device never incorrectly shocked her or caused any other complications. 

And only one third of HCM patients need their ICD more than once in their lifetime. Even then, the majority only experience one to three near-death experiences.

‘Therefore, to experience 10 independent device interventions is extraordinary and probably without precedent in HCM practice,’ the medics added.

They called for ICDs to be used more widely even among those who only have one risk factor of developing the condition, such as their family members having it.

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