CLEVELAND, OH (WOIO) - A local college student is raising awareness about genetic heart disorders. She nearly died before finding out that she has one. Now, she’s using her second chance at life to potentially save lives.
"I'm in perfectly normal health. I'm 19 years old and I had cardiac arrest," says Olivia Bentley.
This past November, a fire alarm went off in Olivia’s dorm at Oberlin College. But when Olivia headed for the exit: “I passed out and fell down the stairs and my neighbor found me on the stairs and she was calling 911 while the security officer came upstairs and he actually administered an electrical shock which brought my heart back.”
The emergency room doctor that treated Olivia says having that AED available was critical.
“The sooner the shock is applied to the heart, the sooner it has to be effective,” says Dr. Peter Sullivan.
Olivia was rushed to Mercy Allen Hospital. Doctors would eventually discover Olivia has a genetic heart condition called catecholaminergic polymorphic ventricular tachycardia or CPVT, basically an abnormal heart rhythm or arrhythmia that can be triggered by stress or exercise.
Thinking back, Olivia says the signs were there for a quite a while. She had fainting spells in high school.
“We kind of just chalked it up to dehydration or like just being tired that day,” says Olivia.
Her grandfather, seemingly healthy, also died suddenly at the age of 27.
Olivia’s whole family has been tested now. She says it’s been eye opening and potentially lifesaving.
“With what happened to me, it was necessary for genetic testing, but it’s led to other members of my family learning they have the condition and that means they can get care before anything bad happens to them,” says Olivia.
A defibrillator has been surgically implanted in Olivia. Her focus now is spreading awareness about heart conditions, especially to younger generations.
“All women and other people should be very aware of what’s going on with their bodies and not afraid to speak up.”
CPVT is rare, affecting about one in 10,000 people. But it is thought to be a major factor in sudden death in children and young adults with unidentified heart conditions.
Some of the symptoms include unexplained fainting spells or dizziness. Another clue could be a history of sudden, unexplained death of a family member.
The good news is, CPVT is treatable once that diagnosis is made.