Published: Monday, December 06, 2010, 10:12 AM
STATEN ISLAND ADVANCE -- Since kindergarten, Kaitlyn O’Connor has been involved in soccer. The Eltingville teen, who was on St. Joseph Hill Academy’s varsity soccer team, had been looking forward to playing the sport in college next year.
But in 2009, Kaitlyn received a diagnosis that changed her game plan. She has Long QT Syndrome (LQTS), a heart rhythm disorder that can cause abnormal, rapid heartbeats and lead to fainting spells, seizures, or even, sudden death. These traumatic events usually occur during physical exertion — such as playing a sport — or emotional stress.
"Right away, my doctor said I should stop playing soccer competitively,” said the 17-year-old, who no longer plays the sport.
The disorder is one of several heart conditions under the umbrella of Sudden Arrhythmia Death Syndromes (SADS). According to the SADS Foundation, 4,000 children and young people die suddenly due to cardiac arrythmias each year. Most of these deaths are preventable.
SADS fall into two categories: Genetic heart rhythm diseases, such as LQTS which affects about one in 2,000 people, and genetic heart muscle diseases like Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy (HCM), which affects one in 500.
"What they share in common in terms of sudden death is that they set up the potential to cause an arrhythmia called ventricular fibrillation. When a patient dies suddenly, it’s because of the same final, bad rhythm,” explained Dr. Michael Ackerman, board chair of the SADS Foundation.
Warning signs for LQTS include exercise-triggered fainting spells, such as those occurring during a race, and fainting due to auditory stimulation, such as the ringing of a doorbell. Auditory-induced seizing, which may also occur, can be misdiagnosed as general epilepsy.