Grace Firestone Delaware

On June 4th, 2011, I spoke at my high school graduation at Tower Hill in Wilmington, Delaware. I was in peak health, with hopes of playing collegiate soccer in the fall. Two days later, I went tubing on the Brandywine with my best friend, and trained at the local YMCA in the afternoon. Around 11pm that night, I was on the floor of my home in Sudden Cardiac Arrest. I had barely reached my mom's bedroom to tell her "I don't feel so good," collapsing on her bed. She picked me up, already dead weight, and laid me on my back as instructed by 911. My brother rushed downstairs and immediately started chest compressions, later followed by rescue breaths. EMTs arrived in 3 minutes and took over CPR without delay. The technicians administered AED shocks to my chest a total of 6 times in order to get a pulse, as my heart stopped 3 times throughout the night. Because my veins were collapsing, they also drilled into my shin bone marrow to get IV fluid into my bloodstream in a procedure called intraosseous infusion.

In the ER, I was put on ice under therapeutic hypothermia to prevent organ damage. Once I stabilized and started breathing on my own, doctors moved me to the ICU, where I stayed for 10 days. When I walked- slowly- out of the hospital the following morning, I found myself fitted with an ICD in my left chest and a new appreciation for life. The summer consisted of remedial physical and cognitive rehab, such as making schedules and walking 25 minutes on the treadmill. I still struggle with short-term memory loss and complex idea retention because of swelling in my brain that resulted from lack of oxygen supply when my heart stopped. After passing a neuropsychology exam in late July, however, I decided to start college in the honors program that August. Against my doctor's recommendation, I also started playing for the university women’s club soccer team. Since then, besides being a student, I have worked in the nonprofit world. Last January, I volunteered at a Kenyan orphanage for 3 weeks and then climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania with a group of volunteers.

I am now an intern at the AHA doing research on congenital heart defects and working to advocate for CPR as a DE high school graduation requirement. Without my 24 y.o. brother's knowledge of CPR (which was retained from his Red Cross certification in 6th grade!), I would not be here with only a scar to show from being minutes away from death or severe injury. Doctors believe a virus attacked my heart, but that is only their best guess. There is no evidence that I have a congenital disease or other heart defect. No prevention could have targeted me. I am here because of the preparedness of my responders.

Together, we are the cure, and it is our responsibility to advocate now for change that can save lives forever.