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Cardiovascular Institute

Cameron Got His Rhythm Back

Bethel Park Teenager Alive Today Thanks to Quick Medical Response

Cameron Lang was having the time of his life right before his heart suddenly sputtered and flatlined. The 17-year-old Bethel Park High School junior was enjoying a concert at Stage AE in Pittsburgh with several friends on May 24, 2011. Nothing seemed amiss as Cameron and his friends sang along with the band and jumped in the mosh pit. Then the unthinkable happened.

“Everything happened suddenly,” recalls Cameron. “I didn’t have any symptoms such as chest pain or weakness. All I remember is that I was walking out of the mosh pit and then I collapsed and lost consciousness.”

Cameron was experiencing ventricular fibrillation (VF) —a severely abnormal heart rhythm. He had no heart beat: without prompt medical attention, Cameron would die within minutes. Fortunately, Stage AE was staffed that afternoon by several paramedics who happened to have a cardiac defibrillator at their station. Cameron’s friends immediately summoned help. The paramedics quickly started CPR on Cameron and shocked his heart back to life with the AED. Minutes later, Cameron was rushed by ambulance to the Cardiac Care Unit at Allegheny General Hospital.

As Cameron faded in and out of consciousness at AGH, his parents arrived at the hospital and joined him at his bedside. “We were frightened but AGH’s excellent cardiac team quickly reassured us that everything would be all right,” said Cameron’s mother, Tracey, who is a registered nurse. Cameron’s father, Dr. Craig Lang, is a podiatrist.

Doctors ran a full battery of tests to determine what caused Cameron’s heart to stop beating. “There are a number of diseases and conditions that can trigger ventricular fibrillation,” explained Christopher Bonnet, MD, a cardiac electrophysiologist who cared for Cameron at West Penn Allegheny Health System’s Cardiovascular Institute. “For instance, Cameron’s condition could have been caused by a structural abnormality, a weakened heart muscle, a thickening of the heart muscle, or a virus that has attacked his heart, among other things. After conducting all these tests, we determined there was no obvious abnormality with Cameron’s heart.”

However, Cameron was still at risk of experiencing a recurrent episode of ventricular fibrillation. A dangerous, life-threatening condition, ventricular fibrillation is an arrhythmia that triggers the lower chambers of the heart to twitch and quiver.  This causes the ventricles to contract in an unsynchronized way and pump little or no blood from the heart to the rest of the body. This type of arrhythmia can cause the heart to stop beating abruptly (cardiac arrest) and lead to death within minutes.

Victims need an electrical shock from an external defibrillator within minutes to restore normal heart rhythm. Those who survive this medical emergency may need to have an implantable cardioverter defibrillator or a procedure such as balloon angioplasty or bypass surgery, depending on the cause of VF.

“Because Cameron had a primary cardiac arrest, there was more than a 30 percent chance that he could have a recurrence of this condition,” Dr. Bonnet added. “As a preventive measure, we recommended that Cameron have a defibrillator implanted.”

According to Dr. Bonnet, an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) insertion is the implantation of an electronic device just below the collarbone used to help regulate electrical problems with the heart. An ICD monitors the heart's electrical activity 24/7 using wires with electrodes on the end that are placed in specific areas of the heart. The ICD responds to irregular rhythms with either anti-tachycardia pacing (ATP) consisting of low energy impulses to promote a normal heartbeat, or shock therapy with high energy impulses, to prevent sudden cardiac arrest. In addition, an ICD can record and store information about the heart’s rhythm and transmit this information to the patient’s doctor for review.

Cameron and his parents agreed that an implantable defibrillator was the best treatment option. He had the defibrillator implanted on May 26, 2011 and has not experienced any medical setbacks since then. “The defibrillator gives me a sense of relief,” said Cameron. “If I have another episode of ventricular fibrillation, I know the defibrillator will quickly restore my heart to a normal rhythm.”

Cameron made such a great recovery that he was able to compete in a few of the summer golf tournaments and golf team tryouts. Cameron has enjoyed another successful season and plans to continue golfing on the collegiate level. This year his team was undefeated in their division and Cameron advanced to the semi-final round in the individual category.

Recently, Cameron and his mother have teamed up with the Sudden Cardiac Arrest Association to increase public awareness about sudden cardiac death. Cameron also served as a volunteer at the Maggie Dixon Heart Health Fair (established by Pitt head basketball coach Jamie Dixon in memory of his sister, Maggie, who died from sudden heart failure at the age of 28).

“It’s important to get the word out that sudden cardiac death can be prevented, especially when AEDs are made available in public places,” said Cameron. “I was fortunate that the paramedics on duty at Stage AE had a defibrillator and knew how to use it.”

Adds Dr. Bonnet: “AEDs help save the lives of people, who would otherwise have died on the spot. Cameron is living proof of that. Thanks to the quick response of his friends and the paramedics, Cameron is still with us today. And with his new implantable defibrillator, Cameron’s long-term prognosis is excellent.”


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