Monday, November 28, 2005


I wish I could have saved my colleague Richard's life the way he (sort of) saved mine. The two year anniversary of his death is coming up on December 10th and I have no idea how he would want me to remember him. But what comes to mind is the day we went to court on a murder case in a small rural county four years ago. He worked with me as a psychological examiner and had been involved in the case which was a double homicide. I noticed the lack of metal detectors when we arrived in the courtroom and was a bit concerned at the large turn out of family members of both the defendant and the victims' families. I had spent a great deal of time preparing for this case and tried to ignore my feelings of uneasiness.

After my testimony, I looked up and saw Richard with his hands waving in the back of the court room. I was still on the witness stand and wondered why he was motioning for me to hurry. I walked back to him and he said,"it is time to go--I think there's a feud about to start." Sure enough, family members on both sides were upset with the verdict and were starting a fight. Richard grabbed my supplies and we hightailed it home. I never heard what, if anything, had happened that day--for all I knew--the fight went outside or fizzled out but I always teased Richard about the day he saved my life.

He was working with me when I had my heart attack and he was battling problems of his own. His wife had breast cancer and Richard never wavered in his care for her and was a very dedicated husband and father. He rarely complained about his situation but we talked about his high blood pressure and high stress level at times. After his wife died, his blood pressure became very high and he told me that he had been diagnosed with Long Q-T Syndrome. I didn't understand the gravity of his situation at that time and was still somewhat in denial over my own heart problems. We would sit and laugh about our "bad hearts" often, saying that given the stress of our job, it was no wonder we were "going down early."

Fast forward to two years ago--Richard had moved out of psychology for awhile and was selling insurance part-time. I saw him at a local store a couple of weeks before he died and he seemed happy. He was remarried and building a house and we chatted about how our lives were going. A couple of weeks later, I heard that he had died. He got out of the shower, told his wife he felt dizzy and that was it... I remember when I heard feeling like I had been hit with a ton of bricks. It struck too close to home and I felt so badly for his wife and daughter. When I started having rhythm problems last year and got my Implantable Cardiac Defibrillator (ICD), I thought about Richard. Why had I been so lucky to get help to save my life when Richard did not? Why didn't Richard get an ICD so that rather than that day marking the end of his life, it could have just involved a nasty shock and a trip to the hospital to get checked out?

I don't know why. But I do know that Richard is not the only one who has died from Long Q-T Syndrome. My cardiac rehab nurse gets misty-eyed when she talks about her neice, Maddy. Maddy was five years old when she walked into kindergarten class, raised her hand to go to the bathroom and collapsed and died while she was in there. The school nurse thought she was having a seizure and moved everything out of her way. A parent who was a nurse was there and wanted to start CPR but no one would let her. The staff believed that kids did not have heart problems. Maddy died waiting for someone to understand what was wrong with her.

When someone dies suddenly, people and even doctors will call it a heart attack--but often it is Sudden Death Syndrome caused by long Q-T Syndrome or other arrythmias. These deaths are preventable, especially if we get over the myth that only overweight older men have these problems.

To learn more about Sudden Death Syndrome and Long Q-T syndrome, check out the American Heart Association. Here is a risk assessment form for kids and adults can use it also to see if they need to be checked by their doctor for heart problems.

Update: Here are the new CPR guidelines.


Blogger DRJ said...

Your post contains important information. I appreciate that you took the time and emotional effort to write it. I'm glad to get older - I know far more now than I did in my 20's - but some of life's lessons are learned in sad, hard ways.

9:32 PM, November 28, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was a commodities trader before and I was on the trading floor when my friend who was in his mid-twenties just clutched his chest and collapsed right there on the trading floor. I was shocked to say the least and it showed me that your job can kill you.
Years later, I had another friend who was the epitome of clean living - does not smoke or drink, good diet and exercises frequently. Within six months of being diagnosed with colon cancer he was gone. I don't know which way I want to go but I'd prefer the fast way and save my loved ones from the agony of waiting and having false hopes.

1:28 AM, November 29, 2005  
Blogger Counsel said...

As an older fat guy, words like these are a clear warning to people like me. So I'm losing it.

The fat, that is. I just realized that statement might qualify as a double-entendre to a psych type.

Anyway, good writing.

2:59 AM, November 29, 2005  
Blogger CDR J said...

One of the first things that I learned in CPR class is that you do CPR ANYTIME there is no pulse. It isn't just for heart attacks. If the school nurse could not detect a pulse, she should have started CPR immediately.

7:00 AM, November 29, 2005  
Blogger Helen said...


I do not even think the nurse checked for a pulse in the little girl--she thought she had a seizure which I do not understand. Maddy's mother lobbied for external defibrillators in schools after her daughter died which was still met with resistance. She assisted in a CPR class at Maddy's elementary school and the teachers were grumbling about having to take the class--one of them said,"I don't see why we need to do all of this just because one little kid died." I thought that was rather cruel. Seems to me CPR could come in handy someday--but teachers have a lot of bureaucracy to deal with already.

7:40 AM, November 29, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think this post is a pretty good way to remember your friend Richard. It tells his story and gives information that could save lives.

9:49 AM, November 29, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My thought is, when it's your time, that's it. Not that I think people should push their luck - but it seems to be the best reason I can come up with of why some people die and others don't - there never seems to be real rhyme or reason to it. When people find out that my son is in Afghanistan, they say "aren't you scared to death?" and I say... "no more than if he was at home - after all car accidents are more frequent killers than the current war is and one hopes that the soldiers are paying closer attention to detail in a war zone...".

For the teachers grumbling about learning CPR for kids... they could have been smacked in the face with - well, it may just save one of you one day too... unless you don't think any teachers ever have heart attacks and die. So far as I know, when CPR is taught - they teach it for all ages of victim - baby through adult - it's a useful skill to have anyway - whether you think you'll need it or not!

3:26 PM, November 29, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

BTW - I just saw this today... CPR made easier. New guidelines for doing CPR for everyone. Might save some lives.

3:37 PM, November 29, 2005  
Blogger Helen said...


Thanks so much for this article-It's good to know that the chest compressions can save lives too.

4:10 PM, November 29, 2005  
Blogger reader_iam said...

What a heartfelt and heart-rending story!

But with all the posts you do on the topic of heart health and the links you include, I'll bet there's another "Richard" out there who's life you can save.

That won't help much on Dec. 10, but it's a good thing, just the same.

2:40 PM, November 30, 2005  
Blogger ronin1516 said...

Thanks for writing this, Dr Helen. I too suffered a heart attack in Sept of 2003, and if my house mate hadnt made me swallow 8 Aspirin tablets, and started CPr right away, I wouldnt be here today writing this. Though my heart attack wasnt of the type Richard and Maddie had, the only reason I was saved was becasue Dan started CPR, punched me in the chest.
I think the best way you can honor the memory of your friend Richard, and little Maddie is to do what you are doing - i.e writing their stories, and by encouraging more people to learn CPR and learn how to use the portable defibrillators available these days.
Keep it up, Dr helen, I know a lot of folks will take this issue serious if you and Glenn continue to remind people.
Ann Arbor, Mi

7:45 PM, November 30, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The anniversary of a death takes a day out of the calendar.
But for the family, it makes many other days very difficult - especially holidays.
I can bet that Richard's wife rue's his birthday and their anniversary too.

3:27 PM, December 01, 2005  
Blogger Thought Directions said...

Slow down and 'smell the roses'.
Richard would want you to!

10:26 AM, December 02, 2005  
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