Jen Morrow

Jen Morrow (full)

On the morning of June 4, 2010 (just one month after my 30th birthday), I went into cardiac arrest at my home in California. I don't have any memory from that morning, and my memory from that whole week is fuzzy. From what I have been told, it was a typical Friday morning. I was up helping my two children get ready for school. Suddenly, I didn't feel well, and I lied down on my kitchen floor to catch my breath. I was lying face down and gasping for air, so my son ran to get my husband who was getting ready for work at the time. He remembers that when he got to the kitchen I asked him for water, I sat up for a moment and told him I felt light headed and needed a moment. I eventually stood up on my own and walked to the bathroom. I then became very dizzy and lied down on the bathroom floor. I started gasping for air, and my eyes were wide open and glazed over. My skin turned gray and cold, and my pulse was faint.  

By this time my parents (who live across the street) had come over. My father took my kids out of the house and my mother called 911 while my husband watched my vitals.  He knew he couldn't start the CPR unless my breathing had completely ceased.  My mother explained to the 911 operator what was going on as the paramedics were on there way. At one point I let out a long gasp and my breathing and heart stopped.  Just as my husband was about to start CPR I took in a huge breath of air and start gasping again.  

When the paramedics arrived, they shocked me with the defibrillator approximately five times. In the ambulance on the way to the hospital I stopped breathing and had no pulse, and so the paramedics began CPR. Upon arrival to the Emergency Room my body temperature was down to 92 degrees. I was shocked approximately 12 more times with the defibrillator. 

My diagnosis was “fatal,” and I was given a time line of four hours. When I had arrived to the ER my potassium was very low, and I was going through Ventricular Tachycardia and Ventricular Fibrillation. To this day, no one knows why.  I continued to experience several more cardiac arrests that morning, and each time I was shocked yet again to bring my heart to a normal rhythm. I was moved to Intensive Care Unit, placed in a medically induced coma and received therapeutic hypothermia treatment. 

The physicians advised my family that if I survived, I would be brain dead. When the physicians performed tests and monitored me they could not find any damage to my brain. My amazing friends and family all came to visit me and talk to me while I was in a coma. I don’t have any memory of it, but am told I had reactions to them, such as increased heart rate and smiling. I would open my eyes, but they were glazed over and I would just give an empty stare upward. As the days passed I remained stable, with no signs of brain damage. Several procedures followed including a tracheostomy, and on June 13, I opened my eyes while my dad was in the room with me, and for the first time I reacted when the nurses asked me questions.  

On the 14th I was moved out of ICU to a hospital room. When I woke up, I could not understand why I was in the hospital and wanted to know where my kids were. Mentally, I felt fine, and I thought I was perfectly fine until I realized my hand and arm movements were extremely erratic. Unable to speak due to the tube down my throat, I tried writing and was shocked to see that the penmanship wasn’t my natural style. Rather, it was closer to a toddler’s attempts at writing.  

I couldn't remember anything from the week before my cardiac arrest.  I had also forgotten other small details until someone would discuss them with me. Then I would slowly start to remember once I gave it the effort. 

On June 21, I left the hospital. Then on July 6, at a routine cardiology visit, I was surprisingly admitted to the hospital again – this time for an Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator (ICD). The doctor knew it was too risky to let me live my life without one, but I wasn't sure of that yet. I thought, “I'll get more potassium in my diet and lower my stress, and I'll be fine.” With so many cardiologists entering my hospital room, I soon realized that my plan wouldn't be enough.  

Additional tests ruled out Long QT Syndrome, arrhythmogenic cardiomyopathy, heart disease and a range of other syndromes that might have explained my SCA. My family has a history of heart disease and diabetes (neither of which I have), and I have never had any problems with blood pressure or cholesterol.  

Looking back when this all started, I was going throughout the day moderately snacking, though I didn’t have a good source of nutrition. I was also stressed from final exams and just everyday life. All of these can be factors in what happened to me. At this point I am content to be alive and here for my children, ages 9 and 6. I’m currently on a beta-blocker medication and make sure to consume more potassium. As to be expected, I was a bit depressed immediately following my release from the hospital.  However, I have a wonderful support system and I know that my children need a strong mom in their lives.