After Kenyati Thompson Jr.’s principal and school nurse saved his life, cardiologists at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford found he had two rare heart conditions
14-year-old Kenyati Thompson Jr. is returning to his life in Bakersfield, California, after recovering at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford following a sudden, nearly fatal cardiac arrest at his school in late March.
“KT” — as he’s known among his friends and family (and now his Packard Children’s care team, too) — is an eighth grader at Chipman Junior High School in Bakersfield, where he serves as president of the student body. He’s an active, dynamic kid with a passion for connecting with others, and up until last month, he had no history of health complications.
On the afternoon of Monday, March 27, Thompson was sitting in math class when he suddenly fell out of his chair and collapsed on the floor.
Thompson’s teacher responded immediately by calling for help over the schoolwide intercom. The principal, Mr. Taylor, rushed to KT’s classroom and began administering CPR. The school nurse followed closely behind with an automated external defibrillator (AED), a portable device that checks a person’s heart rhythm and can send an electric shock to the heart to try to restore a normal rhythm in a cardiac arrest situation. The nurse delivered the shock to his heart within minutes of his collapse. Thanks to her quick action, KT regained consciousness after the shock.
“The saying goes ‘time is money,’ but in cases like KT’s, time is brain,” explains Scott Ceresnak, MD, a cardiac electrophysiologist who treated Thompson. “The earlier and faster you’re able to shock the heart and bring back the normal heart beat, the more brain cells you save. He is extremely lucky.”
Thompson was taken by ambulance to the emergency room at Bakersfield Memorial Hospital before being airlifted to Valley Children’s Hospital and eventually transferred to the cardiac intensive care unit (CVICU) at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital in Palo Alto.
It was at Packard Children’s that doctors diagnosed KT with two underlying heart conditions, one of which was the cause of the cardiac arrest. The first was Wolff-Parkinson-White (WPW) syndrome, a disease in which an extra electrical pathway in the heart can lead to a rapid heartbeat and ventricular arrhythmias. In rare instances like KT’s, cases of WPW can cause ventricular fibrillation and lead to cardiac arrest. Doctors also identified a congenital heart defect called non-compaction cardiomyopathy, which occurs when the heart muscle’s left ventricle does not develop correctly. In certain cases, the condition can produce life-threatening arrhythmias. There is no sure way for doctors to identify which of the two conditions caused KT’s incident, so they treated both in an effort to prevent future risk of sudden death.
To treat WPW, electrophysiologists performed an EP study and ablation procedure — a minimally invasive procedure in which cardiologists access the heart through the patient’s veins and burn away the extra electrical pathway that can cause rapid, irregular heartbeats. The procedure has a 95 percent success rate. By eliminating the extra tissue in his heart, the hope is that KT is now completely cured of the condition.
In addition, doctors placed an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) into KT’s chest, a small device similar to a pacemaker that is used in many patients with cardiomyopathy to monitor the rate and regularity of the heartbeat. When the heart rate becomes rapid or erratic, the ICD delivers an electrical shock to restore organized electrical activity, and therefore an effective heartbeat, to the ventricles.
“The ICD functions as an insurance policy, so to speak,” says Ceresnak. “If KT experiences another life-threatening cardiac event, the ICD will automatically detect it and resuscitate his heart.”
Had it not been for the life-saving maneuvers of the staff at KT’s school, he would not have survived. His conditions would have remained undiagnosed and untreated. KT’s mother, Jocelynne Thompson, is especially grateful for these individuals.
“He would not be here had it not been for Mr. Taylor and the school nurse. They saved my son’s life, and I truly have no words to express my gratitude.” She also emphasizes the importance of having access to AEDs: “People think cardiac arrest only affects adults, but here we are with a 14-year-old kid with no prior history of cardiac trauma. Every building — everyone — should have access to an AED. It can save a life.”
Following KT’s successful ablation procedure and ICD implant, he has returned home and is eager to get back to school later this month. “The last few weeks have been an adjustment, but KT is a bright boy, and he has been such a trooper,” Jocelynne says. “He was down for a second, but he’s back to his normal self now and ready to continue living life to the fullest.”
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- Kate DeTrempe
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