It’s one thing to hear statistics like heart disease and strokes are the leading cause of death for women in Canada and that more women die of cardiovascular disease than any other condition.
It’s quite another to meet Olympic figure skating medalist Isabelle Brasseur and hear how heart disease robbed her of her parents, almost caused her to lose her baby…and her life.
First her father passed away from heart disease, and her mother had two strokes. Then, in 1999, Isabelle was diagnosed with vasodepressor syncope, a congenital heart condition that causes her heart to stop as a result of extreme physical exertion or stress. Not great news for an Olympic athlete.
She was prescribed beta-blockers to slow down her heart, helping her lead a normal life. Five years ago, when she became pregnant with a baby girl, her cardiologist encouraged her to volunteer for a study being done on beta-blockers and pregnancy to see what effect, if any, this medicine had on babies in utero.
Delivery was a concern for Isabelle. Her cardiologist warned the stress might cause her heart to speed up, in turn triggering a dangerous blackout – even while on beta blockers. She told her obstetrician about this possibility but he wasn’t too concerned. He should have been.
They discovered her baby was breech, and Isabelle had to have an emergency c-section. After her epidural, the stress got to her. Despite being medicated, Isabelle could feel her heart speeding up and warned the doctor she wasn’t feeling well. He dismissed her concerns, saying something like ‘everyone feels like this when they’re going through something scary’. Minutes later, Isabelle went into cardiac arrest. Her heart literally stopped while having her c-section. She started convulsing, foaming at the mouth, eyes rolling to the back of head – the first stage of dying.
They shot her up with adrenaline and got her heart ticking again. Baby Gabrielle was fine. And Isabelle hasn’t had a heart-stopping episode since then.
It’s not surprising that Isabelle has becoming a spokesperson for the Heart and Stroke Foundation’s Fundraising initiative. She designated HSF as her charity of choice when she performed in Battle of the Blades last season. The money raised goes to research to help others whose lives have been touched by heart disease.
If you’d like to donate to Heart and Stroke and live in Ontario, you can text ‘heart5’ to 20222 to donate $5.00 or ‘heart10’ to donate $10 with any mobile phone carrier. If you’re anywhere else, you can donate at www.heartandstroke.on.ca.
It will warm your heart and help fix someone else’s.