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Sudden Death Syndrome Afflicts Tens Of Thousands Of Americans

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) - There's a frightening statistic to be aware of: The first sign of heart disease for tens of thousands of people is sudden cardiac death.

Making matters worse, it's rare for someone to survive a sudden cardiac arrest. But CBS2's Dr. Max Gomez says, however, it can be survivable if there's the right equipment nearby.

It gets confusing, because people tend to be a little imprecise with their terminology. There's heart attack, cardiac arrest, sudden cardiac death and other combinations of terms, and some of these conditions can lead to others.

It's rare but not impossible to survive sudden death syndrome.

"We're hugging it out. We're hugging it out," said Ed Jean-Louis. Four years after nearly losing his life, Ed is at last meeting the women who saved him.

"I'm happy to meet you both and be able to thank you both," he said.

Ed was a 27-year-old grad student at UCLA, playing basketball on a rec center court, when he suddenly felt ill.

"I remember saying 'I feel lightheaded' right before losing consciousness," he said.

Doctors say Ed was a victim of sudden death syndrome, a condition that causes an abrupt and unexpected cardiac arrest in people who are otherwise healthy. Most cases occur when the electrical system of the heart is not working properly.

"We were trained. We knew what to do. We were prepared," said rescuer Emily Duncan.

Duncan and Christine Frye were working at the rec center when Ed collapsed and were among three employees who rushed in to help. They grabbed a defibrillator just outside the basketball court.

"We put it on him and it said to begin CPR, and so that's when we started the CPR process," Frye said.

Their quick action helped save Ed's life. But he's the exception: Sudden death syndrome kills more than 200,000 Americans every year, and is the leading cause of death in young athletes.

Ed now has a small defibrillator implanted that can shock his heart back to a normal rhythm if he has another lethal arrhythmia.

"Try to be grateful. Try be present of kind of every breath," Ed said.


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