22-year-old woman's heart stopped 31 times

PHOTO: 22-year-old woman's heart stopped 31 times

At 22, she suffered a cardiac arrest.

And after the woman was sent to hospital, her heart stopped another 30 times.

Thankfully, she survived.

Book editor Samantha Yong, now 23, suffered the cardiac arrest at home in the Telok Blangah area in January last year.

The Singaporean was getting ready for work that day when she suddenly fainted.

She told The New Paper yesterday: “I didn’t really feel or remember anything about the incident.”

A few days before the episode, Ms Yong had felt heart palpitations. But she didn’t pay attention to it.

“I didn’t have any pre-existing health condition. So it really took me by surprise,” she said.

When she fell in the bedroom, she knocked over a fan, and this woke up her then boyfriend, identified only as Michael.

The American, a computer programmer, now 25, saw Ms Yong lying unconscious on the floor.

She looked pale and her lips were blue. But she had a pulse.

So Michael immediately called for an ambulance and conducted cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) on her.

He had learnt this in high school, but had not performed it on anyone in about 10 years.

Said Ms Yong: “He was really scared and panicky. He had to talk himself through the steps to calm himself down.

‘He really saved my life there’

“He really saved my life there. Without him, I won’t be here.”

When the paramedics arrived, they found Ms Yong’s heart beating erratically.

Using a defibrillator, they gave her an electric shock, which restored her heartbeat to normal.

Ms Yong was sent to the accident and emergency department at Singapore General Hospital.

But there, her heart stopped another 30 times. Each time, the doctors revived her.

And finally, her condition stabilised.

She was admitted to the cardiac care unit at the National Heart Centre, where she had an operation to have an automated implantable cardioverter defibrillator inserted into her chest.

This battery-powered device can monitor a patient’s heart rhythm constantly.

When this rhythm is abnormal, the device administers electric shocks to correct the abnormalities.

Ms Yong was discharged 10 days after being admitted. She returned to work in March last year.

She said: “I still don’t really know the cause of the arrest. My doctors think it might be a genetic condition, but I can’t be sure.

“They are still researching and monitoring me.”

Nonetheless, the people around Ms Yong have taken precautions just in case the incident happens again.

Michael, now her husband, has installed several corner protectors around the house so she won’t hurt herself if she falls again.

Her publishing company, World Scientific, also installed an automated external defibrillator (AED) in the office.

An AED is an external device which can help restore a normal heartbeat by delivering electric shocks.

Course in CPR

Ms Yong’s colleagues had also volunteered to take a course in CPR and first aid.

About 20 of her colleagues took the course last July, which was conducted over a few weeks.

Said Ms Yong: “I’m very lucky to have such supportive family members and friends. My colleagues were the ones who arranged for an instructor to come in.

“I’m so touched by what they did.”

A cardiologist, Dr Soon Chao Yang, told The New Paper that it is very rare for a 22-year-old woman to suffer a heart attack.

There is less than a 1 per cent chance of someone like Ms Yong having such an attack, said the medical director of Nobel Heart Centre, which is under the Healthway Medical Group.

“Patients her age usually have other health problems – like diabetes or an auto-immune disease – that prompt heart problems to develop at such a young age.

“Sometimes, heart attacks can be due to just stress,” added Dr Soon.

He said that during a heart attack, it is not uncommon for a person’s heart to repeatedly go into an abnormal rhythm.

He said: “During the episode, the heart is injured, unstable. It is not ‘happy’. So it can stop again and again, even up to 20 times.

“It’s like a storm that keeps coming. Thankfully, this happened in the hospital, where the doctors can revive the heart pretty quickly.

“If she was out of the hospital, she would probably have died.”

The best time to deliver the shock

The best time to deliver the shock

The Singapore General Hospital (SGH) will conduct the world’s first trial to determine when is the best time to deliver electrical shocks to patients who suffer heart attacks.

SGH doctors will investigate if delivering this shock at a specific time during cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) can improve the patients’ chance of survival. Cardiac arrest patients who are taken to its emergency department with severely abnormal heart rhythm are eligible for the study. They may be enrolled into it from next month.

Currently, patients who have cardiac arrests are given CPR and shocks to their hearts immediately. The CPR is paused when the shock is delivered.

But with the advent of automated CPR machines, pauses can be avoided and the shock can now be synchronised with CPR.

SGH’s doctors hope this arrangement can increase shock success, as shown in animal studies.

The study aims to enrol 142 patients, to be randomly divided into two groups.

In each group, the automated CPR machine and defibrillator will be programmed to give a shock at a different time during the chest compression.

In one group, patients will be given the shock during a point when pressure is taken off the chest. In another, patients will be shocked at the pre-compression phase, which is the current standard of care.

The pre-compression phase is the period between each complete chest compression.

The study is led by Associate Professor Marcus Ong, a senior consultant at SGH’s department of emergency medicine. He said: “We want to increase patients’ chances of survival. This study has the potential to significantly impact current practice of resuscitation.”

Heart attacks are totally unpredictable and can strike anyone anywhere and at any time.

Cardiac arrests

According to a Straits Times report, more than 1,000 cardiac arrests happen in Singapore every year.

SGH alone sees 150 to 200 such patients each year.

In Singapore, only 2 per cent of these patients survive. In the US, Europe and Japan, this figure is 20 per cent.

In general, conducting CPR immediately on a patient doubles his or her chances of survival.

SGH is organising a community forum this Saturday to inform the public about the study and teach them what to do if they encounter someone suffering a heart attack.

The free event, Surviving a Cardiac Arrest: What You Need to Know, will be held in the SGH at Block 6, Level 9, from 2pm to 4pm.

The forum will be conducted in English.


This article was first published in The New Paper.