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Jesse's Story: Surviving sudden cardiac arrest

Young, athletic, and struck down by a cardiac arrest

In January this year, 24-year-old Jesse was excited to be playing his first indoor football match of the season with his mates. The car ride to the stadium was unremarkable, just a group of friends catching up, there was no way for Jesse to know that this would be his last memory of that day.

When Jesse next woke, he was lying in a hospital bed. He had suffered a sudden cardiac arrest in the middle of the match and had been in an induced coma for two days.

What is a cardiac arrest?

A cardiac arrest is very different to a heart attack; it is an electrical problem that causes the heart to suddenly stop pumping blood around the body and there are often no warning signs. CPR needs to be started almost immediately and because of this, tragically 90% of cardiac arrests that occur outside of the hospital will result in sudden cardiac death. 

How did Jesse survive his sudden cardiac arrest?

Jesse recovering in hospital

Jesse’s life was saved by an off-duty policeman who thankfully jumped into action and started CPR. Without his quick action, Jesse probably would not have left the stadium alive.

“Mum, dad and my sister were all at the stadium. They all saw me on the ground getting CPR, seeing that was traumatizing for them. They didn’t know if I would make it.” 

Thankfully, Jesse stabilised, but there was still a long road to recovery and Jesse’s life will never quite be the same.

His cardiac arrest caused an abnormal heart rhythm called ventricular fibrillation, meaning he had to be fitted with a small battery-powered defibrillator in his chest that will shock his heart back into its normal rhythm. This will need to be changed every 10 years and he will need to have regular checkups for the rest of his life. 

Despite this, Jesse knows he is one of the very lucky few.

“I knew nothing about cardiac arrest before this happened to me, I had no idea how severe it was until I was told only 10% of people will survive, and it happens to 20,000 people in Australia every year. I was one of the 2,000 who got a second chance,” says Jesse

The cause of Jesse's cardiac arrest is still unknown

After everything he has been through, Jesse’s doctors still can’t tell him what caused his sudden cardiac arrest. 

Shockingly, this is the case for many who suffer a sudden cardiac arrest. Their hearts will appear totally normal, even when examined in minute detail as part of an autopsy.

“My cardiac arrest was just a complete shock. To this day, we still don't know why it happened.” 

Research to uncover the hidden causes of sudden cardiac arrest

Jesse is now exploring the possibility that a hidden genetic mutation was the cause of all this pain, and why he is advocating the importance of the Institute’s Professor Jamie Vandenberg’s research to unlock the genetic secrets of sudden cardiac arrest.

“Without research, we are just going to keep losing so many people to cardiac arrest. For me, it’s about preventing the trauma, and the heartache that cardiac arrest causes families."

Jesse isn't back on the football pitch just yet, but he is recovering well and has a whole new outlook on life. "Having this experience has brought me way back down to earth. And my message to young people is to really appreciate all that's good in your life, because I've learned everything can be taken away from you really quickly." 

What research is the Institute doing into sudden cardiac arrest?

Professor Jamie Vandenberg and his team are working to determine what gene mutations are known to cause sudden cardiac arrest. 

Stage One of his research project is to rapidly test the gene mutations of 500 families, to discover if these mutations are among those that cause sudden cardiac death.

His ultimate dream is to catalogue all these mutations in a database, which would be accessible to clinicians across Australia. 

“This Genetic Database could substantially reduce the number of cardiac arrests caused by genetic disorders. It's something I am absolutely determined to achieve." - Professor Jamie Vandenberg.

This would mean those who are at risk could be screened and given preventative treatments. 

This has the potential to save thousands of lives being lost to sudden cardiac arrest and keep families together. Your donation has the power to drive this research.

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