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Saving our children

April Kawaguchi and son AndrewApril Kawaguchi knows the value of research into heart disease and stroke – it has unlocked a diagnosis to explain what was affecting her heart and that of her two-year-old son. Read her story.

Unlocking heart disease
When April Kawaguchi was in her mid-20s, she had to have her gallbladder removed. She was a little apprehensive because just a few years earlier, she had a tonsillectomy and her heart had stopped while she was on the operating table. The doctors at the time were puzzled because she was in good health and was very active, being a competitive skier and marathoner.

Before her scheduled gallbladder surgery, doctors monitored her heart to see if they could detect an abnormality. While she was sitting up in her hospital bed reading a magazine, her heart stopped, causing an emergency response by the hospital team. However, April hadn’t felt a thing. She had an irregular heartbeat, but doctors were still baffled as to the reason why. Still, she went through with the gallbladder operation without incident and then doctors implanted a pacemaker in her chest to keep her heart steadily beating. Since then, she has had her pacemaker replaced twice.

When April gave birth to her second son Andrew two years ago, doctors detected a heart abnormality in her infant son, too. When they tested April’s DNA, they figured out the problem. Both April and Andrew have Long QT syndrome, a disorder of the heart’s electrical system characterized by fainting spells and shortness of breath. Says April: “I cried when I heard the news about Andrew.” But then her son’s cardiologist, Dr. Robert Hamilton, a Heart and Stroke Foundation-funded researcher, asked: “Have you had a great life? Have you been deprived of anything?” And when April answered no, Dr. Hamilton said: “Then why are you crying?”

April admits that things have changed enormously over the past 15 years. DNA testing for Long QT is a recent discovery, as are the many advances in technology.

Although Andrew has had one fainting spell – a potential sign of his heart problem – doctors continue to monitor him closely. In the meantime, April has learned CPR in case of an emergency. “I just want to make sure he stays safe. Pretty soon he’ll be going to school, and I want the staff to be knowledgeable about CPR.”

By the time Andrew turns 10, he’ll probably be a candidate for a pacemaker, too – that is if researchers haven’t come up with a new discovery in the next eight years. “I know that pacemakers aren’t a perfect technology because they are generic. In the not-so-distant future, I’d like to see pacemakers tailored more to the individual.”

To help fund the Foundation’s 900 researchers and research teams across Canada, such as Dr. Hamilton’s, please make a donation today.