The Quiet Things That No One Ever Knows
by Michael Daggy
My name is Mike Daggy and I would call my life relatively “normal” up to 2005. However, normality is no longer an acquaintance of mine. I am about to share a highly personal story; in the hopes that it offers hope/support to people whom have walked in familiar shoes as mine and their families. My story starts with; I was an average 16 year old high school student, had a part-time job, had dreams of obtaining a driver’s license, going to concerts, graduating high school and going to a college, hanging out
with friends, etc. However, that December, my life forever changed (and I will never say for the worse).
The day was December 8th, 2005; I awoke that morning thinking that life would be the same as the day prior (never suspecting what the day had in store). Thinking that the most important thing was combing my hair and eating breakfast. I remember my mom dropping me off at school, before I left the car, she told me the same phrase as any other day: “see you on the other side” (she meant of the school, where she always picked me up; but that phrase had a different meaning that day). Lunch hour had just passed and I was in my forth period class (American Government). While sitting in my desk, I started to feel extremely tired. That was when life forever changed (once again, not for the worse). The class was evacuated from the room. It just so happened that a public safety officer/school liaison was in the building and was immediately called to the scene. He saved my life; I will forever be grateful for his actions and CPR skills. EMS quickly arrived; they used medications and applied defibrillation. I had a Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA). To this day I have no diagnosis of what caused the event.
I awoke almost a week later from a medically-induced coma and over ten pounds lighter. Wires and tubes flowing out of me, unable to speak from a recent respirator tube; like a scene from a sci-fi movie and hand-made get well posters everywhere, I don’t remember ever feeling scared or worried at this time. I was told that I was placed in a coma while using a cooling blanket (lowering my core body temperature; to assist in preventing brain damage). I had been clinically dead for over 25 minutes and after my long sleep; I awoke, ALIVE, but I was not out of the woods just yet.
After gaining consciousness; I thought that I was younger than I was and attended middle school, lived in a different house; memories from ages 13-16 were mostly inaccessible at that time. Ironically; I had a new favorite movie in the hospital “50 First Dates”, it is a movie about a girl who loses her memory each night, watching it over and over again and having no recollection of the previous time I had watched it (the irony was comical). Odd thing is that; it is still my favorite movie.
After the initial event, I had a surgery to have a defibrillator/Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator (ICD) installed in my chest. After this surgery, an arm sling had to be worn for a while and I could not lift my left arm above my head. The ICD does not pace, but it will shock my heart if it ever goes into an abnormal rhythm/stops again. Luckily; I have never been shocked for this reason.
I finally returned home from the hospital; two days before Christmas 2005. Spending Christmas at home and not in a hospital room was a beautiful gift. Later that season, I returned to high-school. I was truly blessed to have so much support from school staff and fellow peers. While attending school (part-time), I was also attending speech/pathology sessions to regain what I had a lost a month prior. School and good grades always came naturally, but I really struggled after my SCA. Even though school was tough; in 2007, I graduated. After high-school, I went on to obtain an associate’s degree, bachelor’s degree, and a master’s degree. Most importantly, my memory returned!
Living with an ICD at such a young age is tough. When I tell peers that I have an ICD, the
common response is “what is that” or “but you’re so young!”; I then feel that I need to follow up their responses with an explanation. So I tell them that I am a SCA survivor and the common response is the question, “what is SCA?”; so once again, I am obligated to explain further. A simple example of an ICD difficulty; would be that subwoofers used to be very common in cars (especially for young folks), having to explain to friends that I cannot be in a car when the subwoofer is blaring, made me feel like a total buzz-kill. I hope that it never goes off, but if I have a SCA again, I am more fortunate than some without one. I can remember how alone I felt, when I started to digest the fact that: I have an ICD. I felt alone, since I was so young and I had not heard of anyone my age having one. I felt like; I am the only one! However, since there is an online community of survivors (like connected by hearts, various books, and parent heart watch); the feeling of isolation has subsided.
I know that this sounds upsetting, but I do hope that one day my ICD will record an abnormal rhythm and a diagnosis can be made. Today, I hardly even think about having an ICD and do not think about the limitations that it causes. I think of it as a parachute, something that I don’t think about, but is there if a problem is to occur. I guess that I will say that it makes me feel safe.
A few years ago, I kept hearing beeping and would only hear it when no one else was around. Telling others that I heard what sounded like a ringtone of a European ambulance. I thought that I was having a break from reality; hearing this strange noise when I was alone and wanting others to hear it. So when I did hear it, I tried to find someone to validate the noise, but by the time I tried this, the noise had stopped. It made me a little frustrated. In actuality, it was my ICD beeping. This was my last thought
and why would it be beeping if I was not exercising or dying? It turns out that I had a fractured lead. I do have to admit that it was a comfort to know that I was not having mental difficulties and hearing mysterious beeping. Since the lead was defective, the lead and my ICD were replaced and surgery went very well.
It is very difficult not having a diagnosis for the reason that my SCA occurred; not knowing has caused me to wonder if it will it happen again. If it does, will I be as lucky as the last time? Will I be able to keep my memory? What if it happens when I’m alone? Am I ill? What if it is genetic and not having a diagnosis puts my family at risk? Have I done enough good things in this life, if I were to die again and stay dead? How do I want to be remembered? These are questions that most people ask later in life, not when they are not even considered to be an adult.
I am fortunate enough to be able to thank one of the rescuers responsible for saving my life. If it was not for Officer Miles (the school liaison/public safety officer) performing CPR; I would not be here today. Somehow he knew to never give up while performing CPR. I am forever grateful for his heroic actions in December 2005. It is my understanding that a lot of SCA survivors do not acquire the chance to thank their rescuers/heroes; one of my gifts is that I was able to thank mine. Because of him; I have been gifted with 11 additional birthdays.
My journey has been a constant vigorous struggle, but I view my life as a continual learning opportunity. It is my experiences that make me who I am today and I would not change a single thing. I never thought at 16, that a year later, I would be grateful for simply being alive to celebrate my 17th birthday. I will say that the most difficult parts of my journey was losing my memory, having past issues with memory, struggling to regain it, not having a diagnosis, feeling defective, and feeling alone. I hope that my story will help someone affected by SCA.
I am a very open person and want to provide support for SCA victims, survivors, and their families. To help accomplish this vision of helping others; I have been active with volunteering for an initiative of Parent Heart Watch; called Connected By Hearts (CBH). CBH is a blog and a place where SCA survivors and youth living with a heart condition share their amazing stories of survival. If you have not heard of this blog (CBH), I encourage you to check it out. My name is Michael and I am a survivor of sudden cardiac arrest! I want my story to be raw, unprocessed, and fervent; because I know that I am not alone!
Connected by Hearts: http://www.connectedbyhearts.org/
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