Sudden death: Heart failure at 30

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Imagine thinking you had a case of bronchitis, and then fighting for your life. (KFSN)

Imagine thinking you had a case of bronchitis, and then fighting for your life. Acute viral myocarditis is a condition you've probably never heard of, but it can strike otherwise young and healthy people at any time, and is responsible for five to 20 percent of all cases of sudden death.

Playing catch is precious time the Clems weren't sure they would have.

Monica Clem told ABC30, "Really it's the definition of unthinkable that something like this would have happened."

Just a couple weeks shy of her 33nd birthday, Monica felt short of breath and her heart beat was off.

"It was a like dun dun dun dun dun dun," Monica explained.

Since she was recovering from bronchitis, she wrote it off, but later that night she said, "I couldn't fall asleep. I kept feeling like there was something wrong with my heart."

When she got up and fainted, her husband called 911. On the way to the hospital Monica's heart stopped several times.

Nick Clem, Monica's husband, told ABC30, "When the doctor came out and said, we don't know what's wrong with her, were going to life-flight her over to Med Center, but I think she's got about a 20 percent chance of surviving."

Biswajit Kar, MD, Chief and Program Director of the Medical Division for the Center for Advanced Heart Failure at Memorial Hermann Heart & Vascular Institute- TMC and UTHealth Medical School was there when she arrived.

Dr. Kar told ABC30, "I wish you could see the state she came in. We all thought she was dead."

Dr. Kar saved her and diagnosed her with acute viral myocarditis. Marked by inflammation of the heart muscle, it can strike at any age and is usually diagnosed after death.

"The difficulty in diagnosis is the failure to recognize that a young adult that walks into your office with cough and shortness of breath has a heart failure," Dr. Kar said.

It's often caused by an infection that damages the heart. Symptoms can be flu-like; including dizziness, shortness of breath, rapid heartbeat, fatigue or a persistent cough. If symptoms last for more than a few days, see your doctor.

Monica spent nine days in a medically induced coma while doctors worked to cure the infection that wiped out her heart. Since chronic heart failure is a major long term complication of the disease, Monica's been fitted with a heart defibrillator as a precaution. Now, two years later, Monica is thankful her story had a happy ending.

For more information on this report, please contact:

Kathryn Klein
Public Relations

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