Fifteen years later, at the age of 25, I had not only joined a roller derby league, but I had also done contact drills to practice in only three months. I felt amazing! I felt powerful! I felt unstoppable … until I was in cardiac arrest during a Thursday night practice last July.
Lost two days
I woke up the following Sunday at the Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center (DHMC), and I did not remember the last two and a half days. I was told that I was doing an exercise as a scrambler (pointer) and that I was trying to push three opponents hard enough to break their formation and go past them. I had stepped back to approach them again, when I fell on one knee, then on all fours, the surest way to get off. My teammates thought I needed a break, then I rolled and my lips started to turn blue. One of my teammates immediately started giving me CPR. Enfield police brought a defibrillator and I was transported to the DHMC.
Doctors have said that they had done tests and that they thought that it would be better for them. was a problem with my heart They discovered that I had an ALCAPA, an abnormal left coronary artery of the pulmonary artery, which means that the left side of the heart only receives deoxygenated blood.
They told me ALCAPA is an incredibly rare congenital heart abnormality. Normally it is in the first two years of a child's life, and corrected with surgery. Without this surgery, most people with ALCAPA do not survive. The doctors were fascinated to find that the right side of my heart had developed collaterals, multiple small tubes, to push the oxygenated blood towards the left side of my heart. Until roller derby, I never had enough exercise to know that something was wrong.
A reference for surgery
Because ALCAPA is a rare disease and usually occurs in children, my doctor immediately referred me to the program Boston Adult Congenital Heart Program (BACH) Children's Hospital from Boston. He said that he would prefer that I be treated by a team that could do the procedure in their sleep.
My surgeon, and co-director of Coronary Artery Program in Boston Children's, Dr. Luis Quinonez met with my family and I and explained that they usually find ALCAPA early because babies who have it are colic, or have a heart murmur, which I have never had.
The BACH team explained the procedure and what it expected, detailing a "Plan A" in "Plan D", depending on the specific results. I did not focus on how scary everything was. I had decided that even if surgery was only an option, that was what I was doing. If I had been this far, it would be fine.
The surgery ended up being a kid's game. Dr. Quinonez said that once they started the operation, they were able to adopt Plan A: move my left coronary artery and connect it to the left of my aorta. Recovery was not so easy. I had three chest tubes to drain the extra fluid from my chest, and I had to be connected to an oxygen tank for four days. The first time I went for a walk without the chest tubes or oxygen, I made the mistake of going to my usual pace and taking stairs.
Since then, I have been walking and I realized that before the surgery, I had felt half way there. My stamina is not yet at its best, but it's even better than before. The doctors said that after the operation, I would probably feel like Wonder Woman. I can see what they meant.
Before surgery, the only question I had was whether I would be able to return to roller derby. When I join the league in February, I may have to start again, but this time I will be unstoppable.
Learn more about the Boston Children's Coronary Program and on the Boston Congenital Heart Disease (BACH) Program .