Johanna with her family

Johanna's cardiac arrest story

Johanna never expected that at just 46 she would be a survivor of two cardiac arrests

When mum of three Johanna Beaver had her first cardiac arrest at just 37 years old, she didn’t know it wouldn’t be her last.

At the age of 19 Johanna was experiencing ectopic heart beats and was diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia) but was assured it was nothing to worry about and she wouldn’t require treatment.

So Johanna got on with her active life, joining every sporting team she could until almost 20 years later in 2014 when the unthinkable happened.

Johanna Beaver

Johanna says: “My husband and I were sitting at home one night watching TV. I would typically sit up close to him, but that night he noticed that I had started to slump over and was going grey. That’s when he realised I had no pulse.”

Thankfully, Johanna’s husband Josh was a member of the local surf lifesaving club and knew what to do in an emergency. He called 000 and started CPR.

“At the time, I had a soon to be one-year-old and a two-and-a-half-year-old asleep in their beds as six ambulance officers arrived at my house,” Johanna says.

“They thought 'well this doesn’t normally happen to a 37-year-old woman' so they had thought there may have been recreational drugs involved, but that’s definitely not my scene.”

Johanna was taken off to hospital where she was placed in an induced coma for three days.

“When I came out of the coma they told me I’d had a cardiac arrest, but they didn’t know why,” Johanna says.

“They then told me that they couldn’t let me leave the hospital until I had a defibrillator implanted.”

After her cardiac arrest, Johanna was diagnosed with Long QT syndrome, which can lead to dangerous arrhythmias and an increased risk of sudden cardiac arrest.

Going through the life-threatening experience made Johanna acutely aware of all the possibilities life could throw at her.

“It felt like nothing was off the table - whether it was winning the lotto, or something horrific happening,” Johanna says.

This hypervigilance was most obvious when it came to Johanna’s children.

“When I was walking with the kids in the pram, I would put a heavy-duty velcro strap around my wrist so if I collapsed my weight would hopefully stop the pram from rolling off into traffic,” Johanna says.

“I also became fixated on their health; I kept wondering if they had the same issue as me. I would go into their bedrooms at night so I could give them another kiss and double check they were ok. I couldn’t wake during the night and not go and check on them.”

As time passed without any further issues, Johanna’s confidence increased. Johanna and Josh added another member to their family and were focused on getting on with life until January 2022 when Johanna’s worst fears were realised.

Johanna says: “We had friends staying with us down at our beach house. I was in waist-deep water at the shallow end of the pool, talking to my friend Wendy. Suddenly I had this overwhelming sense of confusion and dizziness. I remember saying ‘Wendy’ and that was the last thing I remember before I passed out face down in the water.”

Johanna with her family on a boat

At the age of 44, Johanna had had her second cardiac arrest.

Thankfully, this time Johanna had a defibrillator to restart her heart before she was taken off to hospital – her family watching on in shock.

“I get quite emotional thinking about it because this time my kids were there and saw it happen,” Johanna says.

“They knew I had some issues with my heart and it was something we openly spoke about, but seeing their mum passed out in the water is another story.”

Johanna was advised that her heart had gone into ventricular fibrillation, causing her heart rate to reach a staggering 300 beats per minute. Jo was also advised that 40 percent of her heart now wasn’t working at full capacity.

More than 18 months on from her most recent cardiac arrest, Jo admits that the hypervigilance has set in again, but she is trying to focus on the positives.

“The kids are being screened regularly, I am keeping as active as possible, I eat healthy, I generally manage my overall health and I've got my defibrillator to protect me should anything happen again,” Johanna says.

Aside from looking after herself and her family, Johanna says she want to ensure everyone is aware of the importance of knowing how to do CPR. Johanna says:

“I’m so lucky that my husband knew what to do that day – if he didn’t know CPR the worst could have happened. I literally owe him my life.”
Acknowledgement of Country

The Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute acknowledges Traditional Owners of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures; and to Elders past and present.

Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute - The Home of Heart Research for 30 Years