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Sixteen-year-old Alex boasted to his 13-year-old sister, Lexie, he could swim from one side of the hotel pool to the other without taking a breath. When he came up for air at the end of the pool, he said he felt like he was going to pass out.
Lexie thought Alex was joking but realized that something was horribly wrong when another hotel guest had to pull Alex out of the water. Alex wasn’t breathing, and his skin was turning purple. A hotel worker couldn’t find a pulse and started CPR. By the time paramedics arrived, Alex hadn’t been breathing for about 20 minutes. They used a defibrillator to shock his heart.
Alex had suffered a sudden cardiac arrest, which often is called sudden cardiac death, because people usually don’t survive. Sudden cardiac arrest is when the heart beats erratically and then stops. Immediate emergency treatment is critical to help restart the heart and keep blood and oxygen flowing to the brain.
At the hospital, Alex was kept in a medically induced coma to minimize any brain damage caused during the time oxygen wasn't reaching his brain. He had surgery to have a defibrillator and a pacemaker implanted in his heart to help keep his heart in rhythm. When he woke up from the coma, he couldn’t walk, talk or eat and spent weeks in physical therapy to relearn the basic life skills.
“You are a miracle,” ER physician Dr. Travis Stork tells him.
Two years later, Alex still talks and walks slowly and experiences muscle spasms, but he recently graduated from high school on schedule.
The Doctors sends Alex to pediatric neurologist Terence Sanger at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles to see what he can do to help reduce his muscle spasms and improve his mobility.
Dr. Sanger explains that Alex has myoclonus, or Lance-Adams syndrome, which causes the sudden, jerky motion of his hands, and he suggests a medicine that can help the condition. He also says medications for Parkinson's disease could help improve Alex’s movement.
He says Alex will have to continue to strengthen his muscle control in order to reduce the muscle spasms and suggests he work with a personal trainer.
“You want to stop thinking about this as if it’s a disease, and you’re a patient,” Dr. Sanger says. “You want to start thinking much more about this being athletics. You’re learning skills, you’re gaining strength, you’re gaining balance and you’re gaining coordination. You don’t want it to be us and the doctors treating you. You need it to be you and the trainers and the coaches, and then I think you’ll continue to make really excellent progress.”
To help Alex improve his coordination and muscle skills, The Doctors surprise him with a Taylor guitar and 50 personal training sessions with The Institute of Health and Fitness.