Natasha Fleischman

Save Date: 01/24/02
Natasha has no history of heart disease. In a check-up one year prior to her sudden cardiac death, her doctor gave her a clean bill of health. She was young, she was healthy, she was successful. Life was good.

On Jan. 24, 2002, her heartbeat abruptly and unexpectedly stopped while she was eating lunch at the St. Paul (Minnesota) School District Office, where she worked.
I fell over, I had no pulse, I wasnt breathing, Natasha explains. The quick thinking of co-workers, one of whom knew CPR, saved her life.
No one ever considered heart disease as the cause. Her co-workers thought she had choked on a carrot while eating lunch.
Unlike a heart attack, when a plaque buildup in the hearts arteries prevents blood flow to the heart, her heart started beating too fast and was unable to get blood from the right ventricle to the left ventricle. Blood ceased to pump through her body, depriving her of oxygen.

She was rushed to Regions Hospital, where her husband, Bob, and mother, Mary Ann Jagodzinski, met up with her.

The doctors performed countless procedures and tests. One doctor told Bob that his wife probably wouldnt survive and he should prepare himself for the worst. Her mom stayed up all night holding oxygen to her daughters nose, hoping that Natasha had made it to the hospital before suffering permanent brain damage. According to the American Heart Association, brain damage can occur just four to six minutes after the heart stops pumping blood.

They kept me in a coma for a few days hoping that my brain would be able to repair itself, Natasha says. When I came to, I didnt recognize many people, including my own children. I told crazy stories about why I was there, often not realizing that I was in the hospital.

She was diagnosed with idiopathic dilated cardiomyopathy. Doctors installed an Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator (ICD) a medical device used to help prevent death from arrhythmias. An arrhythmia is a change from the normal sequence of electrical impulses, causing abnormal rapid and irregular heart rhythms. Her ICD paces her regularly (set not to drop below 80 beats per minute). It is different from a pacemaker in that if her heartbeat flutters dangerously out of control the defibrillator will shock her heart back to a normal rhythm, much like the paddle you see doctors and nurses using to shock people back to life on the TV show ER.
Only mine is internal, Natasha explains. It will shock me if Im ever in ventricular fibrillation (over 185 beats per minute).

The ICD is a pacemaker-sized device implanted under the skin, just below the collarbone. Its about the size of three silver dollars.