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“I was very lucky I was in a facility that had [an aed],” says Carly Fonda, 14.

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Carly Fonda, 14

Carly Fonda didn’t intend to play games with her heart, but she unknowingly did. On January 6, 2018, she was participating in a basketball tournament at Floyd Central High School in Southern Indiana. She was only 11 years old and had gone through the usual sports physicals. “She was extremely healthy from all that we knew; she had been playing sports ever since she was in the third grade,” says her mom Beth Fonda.

Carly had played a morning game and took a break with friends to have lunch. When her next game started, she went on the floor to play. During the third quarter, she took a quick break because she couldn’t catch her breath but quickly went back in. “It was so weird because I’d never felt that way before,” Carly says. “I thought I was out of shape because it was after Christmas break.” When she came out of the game a second time and sat down, everything began to spin and then went black.

Coming out for a break wasn’t necessarily out of the ordinary, so Beth kept watching the game. “I happened to catch her best friend’s dad jumping off the bleachers [and running toward the floor],” she says. Carly had slumped over the side of the chair and fell onto a pile of backpacks. Nurses who had been in the stands quickly came to help Carly. They originally thought she might be having a seizure but soon determined that Carly was having a cardiac event and had no pulse. “She was gray,” Beth says.

A fireman who was at the game asked if there was an automated external defibrillator (AED) on site, and fortunately there was. “They pulled me away from her and shocked her,” Beth says. “I just lost it and started screaming.” The shock got Carly’s heart beating normally again, and she was aware of where she was. By this time, an ambulance had arrived and she was taken to Norton Children’s Hospital in downtown Louisville.

Despite running tons of tests, doctors could find nothing to explain Carly’s cardiac event, but to prevent a future emergency, they felt a pacemaker was the best option for her. Unfortunately, a pacemaker meant she would no longer be able to play sports. Doctors decided to do two final tests: a transesophageal echo (TEE) test and a cardiac catheterization. Through the cath, the doctors discovered that Carly had a rare congenital heart defect called anomalous aortic origin of a coronary artery (AAOCA) that affected her left coronary artery.

In order to fix this condition, Carly would require open heart surgery, which occurred six days after her collapse on the basketball floor. She was released from the hospital 11 days after she first arrived. It took about six months for Carly to be cleared to begin playing sports again;  she played her first basketball game on the one-year anniversary of her cardiac arrest.

This experience has changed Carly and her family in many ways. She has decided she wants to be a cardiologist as a career, and her family has become advocates for AEDs in schools and other public venues. “I was very lucky I was in a facility that had one,” Carly says. She hopes that other schools don’t play games without having AEDs at the ready.

P.S. Read about more women who faced unexpected heart ailments head-on.

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