Calif. man with 'sudden death syndrome' thanks rescuers

Published: Feb. 24, 2020 at 1:58 PM EST
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A California man has a second chance at life after surviving a typically fatal heart condition called 'sudden death syndrome.' His life was saved by three strangers, who jumped in to help.

Four years after nearly losing his life, Ed Jean-Louis is at last meeting the women who saved him. "I'm happy to meet you both and be able to thank you both," Jean-Louis said.

Jean-Louis was a 27-year-old grad student at UCLA, playing basketball at a rec center, when he suddenly felt ill. "I remember saying, 'I feel lightheaded' right before losing consciousness," he said.

Doctors say Jean-Louis was a victim of 'sudden death syndrome,' or SDS, a condition that causes an abrupt and unexpected cardiac arrest in people who are otherwise healthy. Most cases occur when the electric system of the heart is not working properly.

"We were trained, we knew what to do, we were prepared," said Emily Duncan, who along with Christine Frye, and another employee at the rec center, rushed in to help.

They grabbed a defibrillator just outside the basketball court. "We put it on him and it said to begin CPR, and so that's when we started the CPR process," Frye said.

Their quick action helped save his life. But he's the exception. SDS kills more than 200,000 Americans every year and is the leading cause of death in young athletes. Jean-Louis' cardiologist, Dr. Olujimi Ajijola, says had the good Samaritans not acted quickly, the outcome would have likely been different. "All of those things were essentially stars that aligned that allowed Ed to survive and do as well as he's done," he said.

Jean-Louis now has a small defibrillator implant that helps keep his heart operating properly. He knows how lucky he is. "Try to be grateful, try to be present of kinda every breath, right?" he said.

Thankful too for the strangers who became his guardian angels.

Most cases of SDS are caused by a genetic disorder, however it rarely presents symptoms before cardiac arrest occurs.