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Patient Stories

Surviving Sudden Death
By Healthy Life 2010 Winter

Theresa Stablewski, 60, enjoyed playing tennis and was often spotted on long bike rides with her husband. She was fit and had no history of cardiac disease; cardiac problems were the last thing on her mind. “My son always joked that I was healthier than he was,” said the Danvers resident, who is the Danvers School Department superintendent's secretary and the school committee clerk.

But on October 19, it all changed for Stablewski. During a school committee meeting, she collapsed, spurring colleagues and a parent at the meeting to jump into action to save her life by performing CPR. After collapsing, Stablewski had no pulse and went into sudden cardiac arrest due to ventricular fibrillation—a severely abnormal heart rhythm. Within minutes, school committee member Bill Bates, Student Services Director Kathleen Curtis and Danvers parent Michele Winkler-Gettings had started CPR and she regained a pulse.

Theresa Stablewski tells her story in this video

Danvers Woman Survives Viral Attack on Heart

Emergency medical technicians arrived and shocked her heart back into the correct rhythm with a defibrillator and she was transported to NSMC Salem Hospital. Once in good condition at NSMC, she had a number of cardiac tests to determine what caused her heart to stop. Director of Cardiac Electrophysiology and Pacing Michael Katcher,M.D., performed an echocardiogram to evaluate her heart’s function and Chief of Cardiology David Roberts,M.D., performed cardiac catheterization to rule out a blockage in the arteries that supply her heart.

“Heart problems are the number one killer of women and men in the U.S. with cardiac arrests or heart attacks accounting for nearly 25 percent of deaths,” said Dr. Katcher. It was not until Stablewski mentioned that she had been feeling a little run down the week prior to her heart stopping that NSMC physicians solved the mystery of her attack. After tests confirmed that there was no heart disease or blockage, doctors concluded that her sudden cardiac arrest was likely caused by a virus that created an arrhythmia, or irregular rhythm.

“Although very rare, sometimes a patient can suffer from viral cardiomyopathy,” said Dr. Katcher. “Sometimes a simple virus, like one that can cause a cold or attack a person’s lungs, can attack a person’s heart and make the heart beat irregularly.” Viral cardiomyopathy affects people of any age and can come with no warning. To prevent her heart from stopping again, Dr. Katcher inserted an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) and a pacemaker into Stablewski’s chest. The pacemaker keeps Stablewski’s heart beating at a normal pace and the defibrillator will shock the heart to bring the rhythm back to normal if it stops beating again. “It provides added insurance so she doesn’t have to live in fear and will be able to lead a normal active life,” said Dr. Katcher.

Today, Stablewski is recovering from her procedure and her prognosis is excellent. In addition to slowly getting back to walking and kayaking, she plans to join NSMC’s ICD support group. “I’m looking forward to sharing my story and hearing what others are doing to get back to a normal life,” said Stablewski. “Life has given me a second chance. I am so grateful to the heroes who came to my aid and my NSMC team. I had the best medical care available."