At 4 am on a November morning, Brooke Ballinger, 7, woke up to unusual sounds coming from the bathroom. She jumped out of bed to find her brother Brayden, 10, on the floor. Brooke knew something was wrong and ran over to wake up her parents, Jenny and Brent.
“It was early in the morning, I can’t remember exactly what Brooke said but whatever it was, it made my husband and me immediately bolt out of bed and run over to Brayden,” said his mother Jenny.
Brayden’s heart had gone into an abnormal and life-threatening heart rhythm, otherwise known as sudden cardiac arrest. His parents called 911 and within minutes the local Eaton paramedics were at his house. He was resuscitated by EMS and transported to a nearby emergency room where he was stabilized. Brayden was then transferred by ambulance to Dayton Children’s Hospital.
an unexpected diagnosis
Under the supervision of pediatric intensivist Dr. Amit Vohra and pediatric cardiologist Dr. Elizabeth Mitchell, Brayden was diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM). It is a heart muscle disease in which the muscle becomes abnormally thick and may not relax normally.
The presentation of HCM is variable. Some people go undiagnosed because they have minimal or no symptoms, whereas others experience symptoms during physical activity, such as an abnormal heart rhythm, chest pain, dizziness, and/or fainting. For other children like Brayden, symptoms can come on suddenly and unpredictably, like sudden cardiac arrest.
“Prior to Brayden’s cardiac arrest, we had no idea something was wrong with his heart as he never showed symptoms,” said Jenny. “His diagnosis was a complete surprise.”
After diagnosing Brayden, Dr. Mitchell referred him to an interventional pediatric cardiology center to have an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) placed in his chest. The ICD monitors Brayden’s heart rhythm and provides potentially life-saving treatment if he goes back into cardiac arrest or if other life-threatening rhythm issues occur. After his surgery, Brayden returned to Dayton Children’s for follow-up care with Dr. Mitchell.
discovering a hereditary connection and proactive measures
HCM has a strong genetic component. It is estimated that at least half of all children with HCM have a family member with some enlargement of their heart muscle, although they may not have any symptoms. Approximately one in 500 people are affected. Knowing this, the Ballinger family decided to get tested and discovered that Brayden’s father Brent also has HCM. As a result, he now has an ICD placed in his heart as well.
CPR classes are another proactive step parents and families can take. “Luckily, in Brayden’s case, EMS was able to respond quickly and resuscitate him,” said Dr. Mitchell. “However, that quick response may not always be available. It is crucial that families know how to appropriately respond in a medical emergency with CPR.”
For the Ballinger family, this scary episode has been an eye-opening experience. “I’m so thankful Brooke woke up and responded to Brayden like she did,” said Jenny. “It’s been a big adjustment for Brayden to adapt to his new life with HCM, such as not being able to participate in sports like he used to. But we’re thankful he is in good care.”
If you suspect you or your child may be exhibiting symptoms of HCM, please contact your local physician immediately for further evaluation. For more information on HCM from the American Heart Association, click here.
For more information on local CPR classes, visit the American Red Cross website at www.redcross.org.