Chris Currie wrote his story to be included in the myheart booklet which was launched in November, 2013.
I was 24 and having the time of my life travelling around the world with two friends. We had made it to Bangkok when we found ourselves in a bar and I literally keeled over. I am only here today because I was talking to an Australian medical researcher (Chloe) who was up to date with her CPR. I later discovered that my heart had gone into fibrillation. Chloe immediately took charge of the situation and kept me alive until I arrived at the local hospital, where I had to be shocked a number of times before they were able to stabilise me. I suffered hypoxic brain injury because of lack of oxygen during the time between the bar and the hospital. Due to the brain injury I was extremely agitated when I came out of the coma, so was kept in a medicated coma for several days before being gradually ‘woken up.’
My parents arrived in Bangkok to find me in a coma, on breathing apparatus, with lines and tubes everywhere. Mum and Dad sat up front with the ambulance driver moving me to Bangkok Heart Hospital, not knowing if I would go home a cabbage or in a box. For them this was an unimaginably traumatic time. My parents and friends took turns to be with me 24/7 until I received my ‘fit to fly’ certificate.
Numerous tests were done in the Bangkok Heart Hospital and although fantastic, they were unable to confirm a diagnosis of suspected myocarditis and I returned home three weeks later to my local NHS hospital for further investigations. After another ten days at Watford General I was transferred to the Royal Brompton where I went through all tests again; ajmaline, ECHO, ECG – to no avail. At this point I was not overly bothered by the situation that I found myself in – partly because of the brain injury and partly I just had no notion of how all this would impact on my life.
My consultant decided that my best option at this point was to try and minimise future risk with an ICD. Between my parents and the consultant it was concluded that I would have a Cameron subcutaneous ICD device. My diagnosis at this point, for official purposes was declared as idiopathic ventricular fi brillation, which actually means ‘they don’t know.’ I had very little emotion about the implantation of the device as I was not really with it enough to understand fully what was going on. All I knew was that I didn’t want it and that comes as much from not liking hospitals and needles as anything else. I was given a general anaesthetic because I could not be relied upon to behave in theatre.
As all these decisions were being made, I can remember adamantly not wanting to have the device fitted and I still very much feel the same way, despite it going off twelve times in one sitting after being violently sick. When my stomach voids, my electrolytes drop dramatically setting off my device and my heart goes into fi brillation. Unfortunately for my friends and parents this episode happened in Crete, so there was another emergency mercy mission to sort me out again, but because of the ICD there was no more brain damage, so once I was stabilised in Heraklion Hospital I was allowed to recover in my hotel before fl ying home. This hospital also tested me, but again to no avail.
The ‘Greek’ episode reduced my ICD battery life from 100 to 60% in one fell swoop, which has drastically shortened the life span of my ICD! I learnt what to expect when the ICD goes off – like being hit in the chest with a spade! I was convinced, because my chest hurt so much, that I must have at least one cracked rib, but a chest x-ray proved me wrong. I am hoping that when I have to renew my ICD, technology will have reduced the size, making it less conspicuous, as it can be awkward when I play sport. I still play Chris Currie’s Story – Idiopathic Ventricular Fibrillation hockey, cricket, golf, squash and go skiing, but less than before.
I came home the day after my device was fitted on 15th February 2011. Being home and in my own bed was better than being in a hospital bed but nowhere near as good as fulfi lling my dream of travelling around the world. I was unable to drive for the six months following surgery which angered and frustrated me. I now understand that I was in fact not fi t to drive due to my brain injury, which has had much more of an impact on my life than my heart problem. I struggle with relationships within my peer group; coordination; short and mid-term memory loss resulting in the inability to work. As far as the ICD goes I am constantly aware of it and can’t bear to touch it or the wire. As it is a subcutaneous machine it is conspicuous when I take my clothes off, although this doesn’t bother me at all. For example on the beach when I am wearing swimming shorts I get strange looks and sometimes people ask what it is. I am happy to explain and generally this leads on to why I have it, so tell them my story as best I can remember it.
The effect all this has had on my family and friends is hard to judge, as I have to admit I have been so wrapped up in my own battle I have been unable to consider them at all. This has provided much friction due to my thoughtlessness and I have been to very dark places from time to time. I gave up my job to travel around the world and intended to re-evaluate my career on my return but have been unable to do this. However, my occupational therapist has put me forward to the Work Solutions Program, so I am hopeful I may be able to fi nd meaningful employment again soon. I am also seeing a psychologist to try and help me come to terms with what has happened.
We have checked through our family history and cannot find any unexplained deaths or heart attacks. Mum, Dad and my younger sister have had ECG, ECHO and exercise tolerance tests and these were all clear, so my condition is still a mystery to us all. As my condition might not be genetic I have not really considered whether any children I might one day have could be affected, but don’t feel it would stop me from having a family if the circumstances were right.
I have become increasingly downhearted and frustrated in not having a diagnosis as without answers there cannot be the positive outcome of a cure. I feel despondent as my whole future remains in the balance and I have no platform from which to rebuild my life. Currently I have no idea when, or if, I will have another arrest, so starting my life again is proving a huge challenge. Not having a diagnosis gives me all sorts of everyday problems too – for example, driving insurance, travel insurance, life insurance and limits on the type of work now open to me. Having to be alert to something unpredictably going wrong is diffi cult. Having a diagnosis would help enormously with relationships with my friends and family, as they would be better placed to understand and help if something went wrong.
I really hope the future brings me a worthwhile career but I’m unsure what. Presently my life has many different improvements as I can now manage holding down 3 different volunteering posts. I assist the Oxhey Park Golf Club green keepers with cutting the grass using the ride-on lawn mower, strimming bunker edges and collecting balls on the golf range; I also work twice weekly at Watford Workshop light industrial unit sticking tape to foam – which I find exceedingly boring, so hope I can move on soon; and lastly I work at Willows Farm Falconry Centre maintaining aviaries, moving birds around as necessary and assisting with general duties.
I would like, one day, to buy my own home. However I don’t think much about the future now as without that magic diagnosis plans seem pointless and I am absolutely convinced that it is the only thing which would help me move forward.