Teacher Copes with Newly Diagnosed Heart-Stopping Condition

On November 7, 2017, Elisheva Marks was in line to board a plane back to her hometown of Boston. The teacher was excited to return home after beginning a new job the week earlier. Unfortunately, Elisheva never made it home that day. Without warning, her heart stopped beating, and she went into cardiac arrest.

Fortunately, she received bystander CPR at the airport and was administered a shock from an automatic external defibrillator (AED). When EMS arrived, she had a pulse but was still unconscious. Transported  to a nearby hospital, she was put into an induced coma and put on arctic protocol, or therapeutic hypothermia.

As an avid runner, Elisheva had no indications of any health concerns, let alone those related to her heart. In fact, just the month before, she had received a clean bill of health from her general practitioner, leaving the cardiac arrest as a surprise to everyone.

During Elisheva’s 11-day hospital stay, she underwent many tests, which showed her heart to be structurally strong and healthy, with no signs of blockages or heart disease.

The doctors then determined the cause of the cardiac arrest was an unidentified electrical genetic condition consisting of several heart arrhythmias, including ventricular fibrillation (V-fib).

V-fib is the most serious type of arrythmias as it causes the ventricles, or the two lower chambers of the heart, to quiver instead of beating normally. This in turn halts blood flow and thus causes cardiac arrest. Annually, more than 356,000 people in the United States experience cardiac arrest, with almost 90% of these cases ending fatally.

Thankfully, this was not the case for Elisheva who stated, “This arrythmia has killed me twice and, Baruch HaShem, I was brought back both times.”

After learning she had a type of an electrical genetic condition, Elisheva recalled potential connections to her childhood.

“Looking back, I used to have ‘fainting spells’ when I was a kid. Periodically, I used to feel dizzy…I always chalked it up to dehydration or low blood pressure.”

During her hospital stay, Elisheva received an Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator (ICD) to prevent future sudden cardiac death. The ICD does this by tracking her heart-rate and administering an electric shock if it becomes abnormally fast or chaotic. She has also had three surgeries to try and correct the arrhythmias, but they were unsuccessful.

Along with the ICD, Elisheva is being followed by an electro-physician and is involved in electrophysiology studies to help determine her type of electrical genetic condition. Due to her years of running, Elisheva’s heart-rate and blood pressure are too low for her to take arrythmia medications. In the future, she will have a pacemaker implanted which will allow her body to support these medications. The combination of the pacemaker and medications will provide the most ideal way to manage her arrythmias while they continue to explore her condition.

Remarkably, after 12 weeks of physical therapy, hard work, and dedication, Elisheva regained full mobility in her arm which was a complication from the implantation of her ICD. Reflecting on the past nine months, Elisheva is thankful for the life-saving CPR and medical care she received, but at the same time, she is learning to cope with her newly found condition, the unknowns and uncertainties that come along with it, and feelings of anger, sadness, anxiety, and fear.

“I have learned grief and gratitude are not mutually exclusive,” proclaims Elisheva.  “It has changed everything in my life…physically, emotionally, spiritually. I am constantly dealing with a new reality that changes every day as I struggle to keep up.”

Recently, Elisheva was cleared to return to the gym, a joy for the longtime athlete. “The first time I was there I cried in the lady’s locker room for a few minutes. I was sad by some of the things I was not allowed to do anymore… but I shook it off and got on with it!”

Through these challenging times, Elisheva radiates a message and spirit of hope. She wants others with similar experiences to know to “be patient with yourself “and that “knowledge is power.”

“One of the hardest things that I’ve dealt with is the lack of control over everything…my body, my condition etc. Finding out information about procedures, medications, and my condition gave me some power back into my life.”

Along with this message, Elisheva inspires others by sharing her survival story, volunteering with the AHA, and advocating for  an increase in automated external defibrillators (AED) in public spaces. This September, she will be a speaker at the Go Red for Women breakfast, spreading her message of hope and the power of knowledge on your own health. Another great joy of her life is her daughter, Amaris, who was recently crowned Miss Hanover Abilities 2018.

If you are a survivor of a heart related incident or stroke, share it with us here.

If you are not a survivor but would like to volunteer with the AHA, please go here.

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