Kirsty Liddell – Survivor

Story courtesy of the Herald Sun

A Melbourne mother of three who was left brain dead for up to 12 minutes after collapsing in front of her young family has astounded doctors by walking away from the cardiac arrest with no brain damage. But Monash Heart doctors say while the odds were stacked high against 36-year-old Kirsty Liddell to survive the cardiac arrest, she is among a generation of women who don’t understand heart disease is the biggest killer of Australian women.

Ms. Liddell was in an induced coma for five days and needed five heart bypasses after a build-up of cholesterol in her arteries caused the attack on April 30. Husband Peter, a partner at KPMG, was first to rush to his wife’s side when she collapsed in their Beaconsfield home while two of their daughters, aged four and six, watched on.

“I rolled her over and she had glass eyes, and her lips and earlobes were going blue quite quickly,” he said. “I knew it was serious, but I didn’t realise she’d actually passed away at that stage. It probably didn’t hit me until a week later how close we came.”

To add to the trauma, Mr. Liddell’s stepfather had died at 6am that day, and the couple had hours earlier sat the girls down to talk about death.

“The girls’ immediate reaction was, ‘Is mummy dying?’ It was horrendous.”

While Ms Liddell had been managing her genetically high cholesterol, she hadn’t been consistently taking medication in recent years while pregnant, because the drugs can be dangerous to the fetus. Four days after the attack, MonashHeart director Prof. Ian Meredith told Mr. Liddell that scans suggested another heart attack was imminent, and they would need to bring forward the highly risky open-heart surgery.

“They weren’t confident that she’d survive the next heart attack, and while it increased the likelihood of complications there was no choice,” he said.

Over eight hours, with her heart stopped and a bypass machine keeping her alive, surgeon Jacob Goldstein cut through her breastbone to replace five diseased coronary arteries.

The surgery was a success, but it wasn’t until she awoke in the ward on Mother’s Day that doctors could be certain she had suffered no brain damage. “It just goes to show that it doesn’t matter what size you are or how fit you are, if you’ve got high cholesterol you are at risk,” she said. Prof. Meredith said women needed to think about getting their cholesterol checked and a stress test, just as they regularly booked a pap smear or mammogram.

“Most women think heart disease is something that happens to fat middle-aged men who smoke and drink too many beers, but risk factors like family history and cholesterol can be silent.”

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