New Medical Technologies Help Save Teen Swimmer

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COLLEEN O'CONNOR,


The Denver Post LITTLETON, Colo.—Jordan Myhre felt great when he arrived at Goodson Rec Center on July 7 to train for his second triathlon of the summer. But by 9 a.m., the 19-year-old lay on the pool deck in massive cardiac arrest.

If not for a nurse at the rec center and new medical technologies used at every step of the emergency — from a pool-side automated external defibrillator to a body-chilling machine at the hospital — Myhre probably would be dead today.

"It was the most horrifying, terrible thing that could happen to our son, but it happened in the perfect surroundings," said his mother, Teresa Myhre.

About a month later, Jordan, a competitive swimmer since age 5, is recuperating by sleeping a lot, reading John Grisham novels, watching "The Office" and eating lots of his favorite meals — from Chipotle — to regain the 20 pounds he lost in the hospital.

He hopes to return late this month to his premed studies at Southern Illinois University, where he will be a sophomore.

"I feel fine, just like before," Jordan said. "The only difference is this thing in my chest."

He left the hospital with a pacemaker and a defibrillator, along with a diagnosis of Long QT syndrome, a rare heart-rhythm disorder that can cause fast, chaotic heartbeats.

"I can't believe I made it this long without anything else happening," said Jordan, a lifelong athlete who said he loves to push his physical limits.

Learning of his diagnosis, Jordan's older sister had herself tested for Long QT syndrome and discovered she also has it. She believes that his experience saved her life.

Jordan has no memory of the morning he nearly died. But his coach, Nick Frasersmith, recalls every detail and the fear he felt.

"It was a regular practice," he said. "There was no sign of anything different from any other day."

Jordan had just finished the last set, touching the wall before anyone else, and gone straight into warm-down.

Suddenly, Frasersmith noticed that Jordan was swimming crooked. He saw him flip over on his back and sensed something wasn't right.

Frasersmith yelled to another swimmer to pull Jordan to the side of the pool and raced over.

As the lifeguard called 911, a woman — a nurse arriving for a water aerobics class — offered to help.

They couldn't find a pulse, so they started CPR. The coach did rescue breathing while the nurse performed the compressions.

The lifeguard rushed over with the AED, an automated defibrillator that detected that the rhythm of Jordan's heart indicated the need for a shock. They wiped his body dry, applied the pads and began that work.

"It was very surreal," Frasersmith said. "The weird part was why he was in this situation. It's not like he hit his head or slipped and fell. I thought, 'Breathe, wake up, do something.'"

They shocked his heart twice before paramedics arrived.

"It was very scary," Frasersmith said. "He did not look like he was going to make it."

Littleton Fire and Rescue arrived in an ambulance equipped with AutoPulse, a fairly new technology that automatically performs CPR with a band strapped across the patient's chest. The device kept Jordan alive by shocking his heart three more times.

Littleton paramedics have had the device for a little more than a year. "We're one of the first agencies in the Denver metro area to have this," said Lt. John Schefcik.

When Jordan arrived at the hospital, the prognosis was grim.

"In my 13 years of doing this, I've never seen someone this sick walk out of the hospital," said Littleton Adventist ER physician Rob Vanderleest.

But the hospital had just trained a team to use a new body-cooling technology, called Arctic Sun treatment, used to lower body temperature to about 91 degrees, which is known to significantly lessen chances of complications from cardiac arrest.

"It was pretty new to all of us," Vanderleest said. "I used it for the first time on someone just two days before Jordan."

The process is called therapeutic hypothermia. For 24 hours, the patient is encased in a machine — like a bodysuit filled with cold water. The chilling slows the metabolism, giving the heart time to recover while protecting brain function.