Lucia Halstrom was like any other healthy 8-year-old. She liked playing with friends, being active and spending time with her family.
When Lucia [pronounced Loosha] was in kindergarten, and again in first grade, she suffered seizure-like episodes, but both times she was taken to a hospital and tests came back clear. On May 1, 2014, Lucia came home from school and asked her mom, Amy, if she could visit a friend at a neighbor’s house. A few minutes later, the friend appeared at the Halstroms’ door and told Amy that Lucia was hurt. Like any mom, Amy thought it was a bad fall or accident. But moments later she saw that Lucia hadn’t made it to her friend’s house; she was face down in the bedrock of the yard and unconscious. She had gone into sudden cardiac arrest.
They called 911, and Amy started CPR. When first responders arrived, they used an automated external defibrillator (AED) to shock Lucia’s heart. The ambulance took her to a nearby hospital, and shortly after brought her to Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota. Lucia’s dad, Kurt, had been away on a business trip when he got a call from Amy on her way to the hospital, and he worked furiously to get home and see his daughter.
For five days, Lucia was in a medically induced coma and on a ventilator. An MRI showed that Lucia had experienced significant brain damage due to a lack of oxygen. Amy remembers seeing pain in the doctor’s eyes as he told them that Lucia would most likely never communicate again except through her eyes and wouldn’t be able to breathe or swallow on her own. They hoped and prayed for a miracle.
Then, about 24 hours after the MRI, Lucia began breathing on her own. She also started talking, slowly – at first what she was saying didn’t make sense, but she progressed to speaking full sentences, reading and understanding things.
“Lucia has always been strong-willed and persistent, doing things her own way,” Amy said. While they were in the hospital, Lucia’s brother, Jonathon, explained to Amy, “I knew why God made Lucia the way she is.”
Amy, Kurt and Jonathon stayed at the Ronald McDonald House inside the hospital during Lucia’s stay so they could be close to her. After 16 days, Lucia was discharged. They still didn’t know what caused her sudden cardiac arrest, but she had an implantable defibrillator inserted and was on medication. About two months after her hospitalization, she was back to baseline, physically and cognitively.
In July 2014, genetic testing results revealed that Lucia suffered from catecholaminergic polymorphic ventricular tachycardia, or CPVT. People with CPVT have an abnormal heart rhythm, which can lead to fast and irregular heartbeats called ventricular tachycardia. Sometimes, ventricular tachycardia episodes cause headaches, dizziness or fainting – the seizure-like episodes Lucia had experienced. Ventricular tachycardia episodes can make the heart stop beating, as it did in Lucia’s case. CPVT often goes undetected, as it is only discovered through genetic testing. It’s treatable, but unfortunately it often goes unrecognized until cardiac arrest or death. Jonathon was tested, too, and his results came back clear.
Once Lucia got the diagnosis, doctors worked with her to develop a treatment plan. She wouldn’t be able to participate in activities or sports that raise her heart rate and adrenaline, so she took up golf and has become a champion golfer at her local course. She still can downhill ski, as long as she takes it slow and easy and wears a helmet with a sticker that specifies to call 911 if she has a cardiac issue. She loves to be with her friends, read, play the clarinet and do things like any other kid.
The Halstroms take time to give back through the American Heart Association and Children’s Minnesota, speaking at events and participating in the HeartBeat 5000 run/walk. Their school now teaches sixth-graders CPR and how to use an AED, recognizing how important those first few moments are after someone suffers cardiac arrest.
Lucia is able to live a full life, but she knows her limitations.
“She does what she has to in order to be able to do the things she loves,” Amy said. “She follows the rules.”
Today, Lucia isn’t just alive – she’s thriving.
To learn more about Lucia’s story, watch the following videos: