In May 1994, Chris had his first cardiac arrest while biking to work. He fell off his bike and was thankfully resuscitated by a passerby and the first responders. Luckily, that good Samaritan had just completed an industrial first aid course and the firefighters had recently started using one of the first automatic external defibrillators provided to a fire department. Chris was saved and was sent to Toronto to have surgery to repair the effects of his disease, hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.
A couple years later, Chris and Tanya met, dated, and moved in together, in Minneapolis. In 2001, Chris saw a cardiologist for a regular check up, and luckily again, Chris was in the right place at the right time. This cardiologist found a dangerous electrical change in Chris’ heart and provided him with an internal cardiac defibrillator (ICD) to keep Chris safe all the time.
Life went on, Chris and Tanya moved home to Vancouver, got married, bought a condo… just lived. Occasionally the ICD went off. That ICD saved him when he was helping a woman in a car accident, while he was laying in bed, while he was running to train for a marathon, and many other times throughout the years. They learned to work with it and were grateful to have that device to save Chris every time he needed it.
In 2007, Chris had his first experience with an “electrical storm” in his heart. The ICD had to “hit” him a few times in a row, resulting in a week in hospital, and the start of medication to keep the trouble rhythms under control. Also in 2007, Chris and Tanya welcomed their first child and life carried on.
As they always had, Chris and Tanya were dedicated to living the life they wanted. Chris’ disease was something they had to pay attention to every now and then but they rarely allowed it to creep into their daily lives..
On July 21, 2008, his disease put itself front and centre in their lives. Chris had another “electrical storm” while playing beach volleyball. Tanya and a friend got Chris to St Paul’s Hospital where he was “hit” 31 times over the course of an hour until medication calmed the rhythm of his out of control heart. After a week in hospital, Chris was sent home, and in the ensuing months, the St Paul’s team worked hard to keep Chris alive with his own heart. On November 19, 2008, they decided it was time to put him on the heart transplant list. Nineteen months later to the day, he got the call. His surgery took place overnight and he had his new heart, from a generous donor, just in time for Father’s Day.
During those long months, Chris and Tanya bravely decided to keep going with their life plan. They got pregnant using a miracle treatment that would ensure the disease that had caused so many problems for Chris would not be inherited by the next generation. Eight days after Chris received his gift of life, two new little lives began. Tanya gave birth to twins at St Paul’s two floors below Chris’ room thanks to those who helped transfer Tanya’s care with only a week to go in her pregnancy.
Chris and Tanya feel very lucky with all the chances they’ve been given to have a life together. With that life, they are going to do their best to give back to the world that has dealt them such a fortunate hand. Giving the families of future transplant recipients some comfort at such a difficult time is one way they hope to achieve this goal.