I am
Cardiac arrest at 33: the challenges of restarting your life
heartfoundation.org.au|Helpline 13 11 12

Cardiac arrest at 33: the challenges of restarting your life

Emma shares her story and opens up about her emotional struggles.

Thursday 14 April 2016 started the same as any other day. I woke up, made breakfast for my family, took my son to daycare then drove to work. My last memory of Thursday was making plans to meet a friend that afternoon.

I was at the supermarket when I had my cardiac arrest. According to reports, I said out loud that I thought I was going to faint. I then collapsed face first and several minutes passed before a staff member came to check on me. She realised from the colour of my skin and lips that something very serious was happening. I had no signs of life.  Two staff members worked tirelessly doing CPR for approximately eight minutes until the ambulance arrived. They saved my life.

Paramedics delivered two shocks to start my heart and transported me to Sunshine Hospital. My injuries included cracked ribs, cracked sternum, bruised lung and retrograde amnesia from the lack of oxygen to the brain. I went through many tests including a CAT scan, angiogram, Xray, MRI of brain and heart and echocardiograms.  None of which gave any explanation for the cardiac arrest.

Luckily, or unluckily, I have no memory of my time in emergency and when I woke the following Saturday, I was in the cardiac ward and it was my fifth wedding anniversary.

After more tests, I was told that I would be getting a model defibrillator inserted into my chest. It is called a subcutaneous implantable cardioverter defibrillator, S-ICD for short. 

After a two week stay in hospital, I was allowed to go home. So many emotions stayed with me. I was terrified, nervous and scared.

Since I had it implanted, I have had five shocks from my defibrillator. I wouldn’t wish them on my worst enemy. Three occurred after I played a game of netball. I can still recall the feeling of thinking that I was going to die and that I would never see my son again. 

I was once again taken to hospital and after a three day stay, I was back home. On reflection, I still hadn’t processed what had happened to me or what it meant.

The next two shocks happened while I was at work. I had just sat down with one of my students when I noticed I didn't feel right. I felt dizzy and could have sworn I heard a crackle in my chest. I was scared but concentrated on calming my breathing down. This time when I went back to hospital, it was to be a five week stay. I underwent two heart procedures, four treadmill stress tests, and had at least 50 different needles stuck in me.

This time. my stay in hospital was a real struggle. I found myself suffering flashbacks while sleeping. I would dream of having a shock and wake up thinking it had really happened. I was so depressed and cried constantly. Nearly everything set me off.

I think I had finally realised what had happened to me and I couldn’t understand why. What had I done? My emotional health was in a very bad place. My specialist arranged an electrophysiology study which would hopefully diagnose and help treat my heart condition.

The morning of the procedure I was incredibly scared and anxious. After the procedure, I woke up in recovery to overhear a nurse telling someone it had not been successful. My spirit was deflated.

A week later the procedure was repeated. When I woke up this time I heard the nurses say the procedure had been a success. A stress test done a few days later revealed that no dangerous rhythm was present. I rang my parents and there were lots of happy tears. When my husband arrived we could only hug and cry more happy tears.

However, that night after my husband went home, the doubt started to creep back in. What if the abnormal rhythm came back? How long would this last? Was I safe? The questions were endless and it wasn't long before my happy mood disappeared.

The psychological impact has been the hardest for me. You forget that your brain needs time to recover as well. During my stay in hospital all the emotions that had been building up were slowly released. I have never been so emotional. I cried for the life I had, I cried about how unfair it was, and I cried from fear of the future.

The anxiety of being left alone can be overwhelming. Debilitating almost. I hated being alone in my own home. Anxiety and panic attacks are awful and I still need to learn to deal with them and not to let them dictate my life.

Seventeen months after my sudden cardiac arrest I received results from genetic testing. My cardiac arrest was due to a genetic condition called Arrhythmogenic Right Ventricular Cardiomyopathy. Finally, I had an answer.

Emotionally I still have my ups and downs and find myself thinking about life and how unfair it can be. But on the other hand, I know how lucky I am to live in a country where healthcare is at your fingertips. Now we just need to educate more people on the importance of learning CPR and have more defibrillators in public places. Sometimes I celebrate my survival and sometimes I still get angry. Recovery goes on...

If you’re a young heart patient (aged 18 - 40 years) and have faced similar emotional challenges, please join us at our free Supporting Your Emotional Wellbeing online forum on Saturday, 23 May 2020.

Register now

Discover more heart stories

You might also be interested in

Cardiac arrest at 26: adjusting to a new ‘normal’

Cardiac arrest at 26: adjusting to a new ‘normal’

Cardiac arrest at 26: adjusting to a new ‘normal’

Action Plans

Action Plans

Action Plans

Recovery is a long journey, so having a plan makes a huge difference. Using an action plan gives you a step-by-step guide to improving your lifestyle....

Alcohol action plan

Alcohol action plan

Blood pressure and your heart

Blood pressure and your heart

Blood pressure and your heart

Understand blood pressure and how it can impact your heart health....

What is cardiac rehab?

What is cardiac rehab?

What is cardiac rehab?

Cardiac rehab is proven to keep you out of hospital and reduce your risk of death from heart conditions....

From diagnosis at 37 to heart surgery, rehab and now

From diagnosis at 37 to heart surgery, rehab and now

From diagnosis at 37 to heart surgery, rehab and now

Claude Lam, Open heart surgery survivor...

What is angina?

What is angina?

What is angina?

Angina is a type of chest pain or discomfort that’s a symptom of an underlying heart problem, usually coronary heart disease (CHD)....

Blood pressure action plan

Blood pressure action plan

Key steps that can help you manage your blood pressure....

Blood cholesterol

Blood cholesterol

Blood cholesterol

Keeping your blood cholesterol at a healthy level can help you reduce your risk of heart disease and other serious conditions. ...

Driving and travelling after a heart attack

Driving and travelling after a heart attack

Driving and travelling after a heart attack

Explore our guide for driving and heart attack recovery. ...

MyMarathon

MyMarathon

MyMarathon

The fundraising race where you set the pace. Run, jog or walk MyMarathon at your own pace during October....

Tenecteplase versus alteplase for stroke thrombolysis evaluation trial

Tenecteplase versus alteplase for stroke thrombolysis evaluation trial

Professor Mark Parsons, Institution: University of Melbourne...

Heart Health Check Toolkit

Heart Health Check Toolkit

Research Directory

Research Directory

Reading food labels

Reading food labels

Reading food labels

Nutrition information panels and ingredients lists are a good way of comparing similar foods so you can choose the healthiest option....

Women and heart disease

Women and heart disease

Women and heart disease

Every day, 22 women lose their lives to this condition....

Vegetarian recipes

Vegetarian recipes

Vegetarian recipes

Search through our vegetarian recipes...

What is plant-based eating

What is plant-based eating

What is plant-based eating

Learn about plant-based eating and its impact on heart health ...

Absolute CVD risk charts

Absolute CVD risk charts

Absolute CVD risk charts provide a visual tool to calculate CVD risk for use in practice in Australia....

Our history

Our history

Our history

For more than 60 years the Heart Foundation has been helping improve heart health across the nation....

Trek for Australian Hearts

Trek for Australian Hearts

Trek for Australian Hearts

Join the Heart Foundation in South Australia for the journey of a lifetime, trekking the ancient Flinders Ranges to help save Australian hearts....

Heart disease and pregnancy

Heart disease and pregnancy

Heart disease and pregnancy

Pregnancy is often referred to as the “ultimate stress test” for the body....

Sodium and salt converter

Sodium and salt converter

Convert the sodium listed on food products into grams of salt or vice versa. ...

Healthy eating to protect your heart

Healthy eating to protect your heart

Healthy eating to protect your heart

What does a heart-friendly diet look like?...

How your heart works

How your heart works

How your heart works

Your heart is a muscle that pumps blood to all parts of your body. The blood gives your body the oxygen and nourishment it needs to work properly. ...

Become a corporate partner

Become a corporate partner

Become a corporate partner

Partner with us to help us fight for Australian hearts....

Heart Age Calculator

Heart Age Calculator

Heart Age Calculator

Could you be at risk of heart disease? Get your estimated heart age now....

Heart stories

Heart stories

Heart stories

Stories of hope from Australian men and women fighting heart disease....

Get your family moving

Get your family moving

Get your family moving

Get your kids active and set them up for healthier habits into adulthood....

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk assessment and management

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk assessment and management

Absolute CVD risk assessment is an integrated approach that estimates the cumulative risk of multiple risk factors to predict a heart attack or stroke event in the next five years....

Heart Bypass Surgery

Heart Bypass Surgery

Coronary bypass surgery is a common procedure that can dramatically improve the health of your heart. ...

Research shows if you have gum disease, you’re twice as likely to have heart disease.

Research shows if you have gum disease, you’re twice as likely to have heart disease.

Research shows if you have gum disease, you’re twice as likely to have heart disease.

Our Annual Reports

Our Annual Reports

Our Annual Reports

Discover our Annual reports from 2013 onwards. ...

How to make healthier meals at home

How to make healthier meals at home

How to make healthier meals at home

Cooking at home is often healthier than eating out....

Aiming high after a stroke

Aiming high after a stroke

Aiming high after a stroke

Sami Kennedy-Sim is an Olympic freestyle skier specialising in Ski Cross. ...

Asian recipes

Asian recipes

Asian recipes

Find heart healthy Asian recipes....

Breakfast recipes

Breakfast recipes

Breakfast recipes

Heart healthy breakfasts to start your day right...

Relationships and sex after a heart attack

Relationships and sex after a heart attack

Relationships and sex after a heart attack

Explore some useful things to know about intimacy after a heart attack....

Queensland Cardiovascular Research Network

Queensland Cardiovascular Research Network

Queensland Cardiovascular Research Network

QCVRN provides a framework to strengthen cardiovascular research in Queensland...

Italian recipes

Italian recipes

Italian recipes

Find heart healthy Italian recipes....