A former athlete has revealed how a rare undiagnosed genetic disorder led him to suddenly collapse and almost die in the middle of an ice hockey match.
Corey Johnson, of Highgate, spoke to Metro.co.uk about the little-known Brugada syndrome, which causes the heart to beat dangerously fast, to raise awareness of the condition. The 32-year-old explained how in 2016 he married his wife, Alice, who he met at the University of Toronto when she was an exchange student there. ‘We got married in Sicily in June at the town hall in our favourite city, Noto, with about 30 close family and friends there,’ he said.
‘We literally had the town to ourselves – the weather was hot, the food was great the people we loved were there.’ But a week after their wedding, he said everything went ‘horribly wrong’. ‘Up until that point I had been super healthy. I was an athlete, playing competitive ice hockey, had never been ill and ate well,’ Corey added. He was playing an ice hockey match with his team at Streatham Ice Rink in London at a championship final. Alice was in the crowd.
Corey said he wasn’t playing very well and letting in a lot of goals – and 10 minutes into the game he collapsed. ‘It was remarkable I even survived at all’ ‘That’s all I remember. The rest has had to be filled in by Alice and my teammates as I still have no recollection of that evening,’ he said. ‘At first people thought had a head injury and teammates called an ambulance. But Alice apparently could see I wasn’t breathing and started screaming. ‘Then my teammates realised that my heart had stopped.’ He said one of his teammates had done a CPR course literally the day before, so started CPR – and someone got a defibrillator which didn’t work.
The London Air Ambulance landed outside the rink and a paramedic realised Corey had gone into cardiac arrest. He gave Corey a huge shot of adrenaline and some electric shocks which brought the athlete back. ‘I was down on the ice without a heartbeat for 45 minutes – it’s remarkable that I even survived at all,’ said Corey. ‘Our marriage had barely begun’ ‘Alice had to be carried away from where they were working on me because everyone didn’t think I was going to make it. ‘We’d only been married a week and she thought that I was going to be taken away from her when our marriage had barely begun.’ He was rushed to St George’s Hospital where he was in intensive care for three days in an induced coma. ‘Doctors were worried I’d sustained brain damage as I was down for so long,’ Corey added.
‘Finally, after three days they decided to wake me up and I had no memory and was quite aggressive. So, they put me back down into an induced coma for a second time and after a couple of days woke me up again. ‘But I couldn’t remember who I was, I didn’t know where I was, and I thought I was a teenager again. ‘I did recognise Alice and remembered that we’d just got married and that made her so happy.’ A long road to recovery He said he soon realised the enormity of what had happened to him – he needed speech, language and cognitive therapy in order to ‘learn to live again’. After three weeks in hospital and a lot of tests, Corey was finally diagnosed with Brugada syndrome and had an ICD fitted – a device which shocks the heart back into a regular rhythm if the heart goes into sudden cardiac arrest.
‘It took around six months to get back to normal and come to terms with what had happened and my diagnosis,’ he said. ‘It hit me hard psychologically, but it also hit Alice very hard as she witnessed the whole thing at the rink. ‘As a result, she has suffered with PTSD and when we’re in bed she’ll always put her hand on my back to make sure I’m breathing.’ Corey had recovered well until January this year when he suffered another cardiac arrest, again while playing ice hockey. The ICD shocked his heart back into a normal rhythm within 10 seconds, but has sadly meant Corey has had to give up ice hockey completely.
Although Brugada is genetic, my parents won’t take the test which is frustrating for me. I think it’s part fear and part denial,’ he added. ‘But Alice and I are trying to get on with our lives and plan a family of our own – although obviously there is the worry that our child will inherit the faulty gene.’