Javier V
Javier recovers from cardiac arrest

Twenty-year-old Javier Venegas has a wish list of accomplishments that could fill a swimming pool: hiking the John Muir Trail, running a marathon, visiting all seven continents and all 30 Major League ballparks, finishing college and joining the Peace Corps – the list goes on and on.

As a student-athlete in college, Javier has already accomplished much. On campus, he serves as Golden West College’s student body president, District Student Council’s vice chair and is an active cross-country runner. Off campus, he is an Eagle Scout and a member of the National Honor Society for the Boy Scouts.

But on January 25, 2017, Javier’s heart suddenly stopped.

“He was at track practice at Golden West College when he collapsed,” says his mother, Valerie Venegas. “Thankfully, the assistant coach knew CPR and the athletic trainer had access to an AED (Automated External Defibrillator). They had to shock him twice, but they got his heart going before the paramedics arrived.”

Valerie, who works at the college, dashed across campus from her office, arriving in time to join her son in the back of the ambulance. Though there are several hospitals nearby, the dispatcher directed them to the Emergency Department of MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center, a designated Cardiac Receiving Center for Orange County. When they arrived, an integrated team of medical specialists was already assembled and waiting outside.

A cooling solution

Cardiologist, Jesse Wasley, M.D., and the Emergency Department team quickly determined that Javier had an infection, which had reached his heart causing myocarditis, or inflammation of the middle layer of the heart wall. His heart function remained weak, prompting his doctors to initiate a protocol known as therapeutic hypothermia, a treatment that lowers the body temperature after cardiac arrest, helping to reduce damage to the brain.

“Studies show that patients who survive sudden cardiac arrest have significantly better cardiac and neurologic outcomes if hypothermia is induced,” says Hubert Wong, M.D., medical director and chair of the Department of Emergency Medicine at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center. “We put Javier on a ventilator and used a device called the Arctic Sun® to lower his body temperature to a steady 91 degrees for a period of about 24 hours.”

The next day, Javier’s care team began the slow process of raising Javier’s body temperature back to normal, while weaning him off the medication that kept him sedated. Nearly 48 hours after his heart suddenly stopped, Javier began to regain consciousness.

For two days, Javier was unconscious and I had no idea if he was going to be OK. But his doctors and nurses kept me informed moment to moment, I believed in Javier’s medical team; they are truly the heart of the hospital. As a worried mom, I could not ask for better care for my son than the care he received at Orange Coast.

Valerie Venegas

In May, Javier had a magnetic resonance image (MRI) scan performed, as well as an electrocardiogram (EKG) test to monitor his heart’s activity, and they found no damage.

“Multidisciplinary teamwork and advanced technology greatly improved Javier’s chances for a full recovery, but getting his heart beating while still on the field was also critical,” says Dr. Wong. “Approximately 10 to 11 percent of people who go into sudden cardiac arrest survive and only eight percent of those will have a good neurologic outcome. That number jumps to 30 percent when CPR and the AED are employed.”

Back on track

Javier has no memory of the events surrounding his cardiac arrest. His only physical reminder is a scar where doctors implanted a defibrillator to restart his heart, should it ever stop again.

“I don’t feel any different, and in fact, I feel great! I’m not medically cleared to play competitive sports or run a marathon, but it’s going to happen. I’m back to running and swimming and am so thankful to the doctors and nurses at Orange Coast who helped me so I can go the distance and achieve all my life goals,” says Javier.

Today, Javier is in his fourth year at Golden West, serving as the Student Trustee for Coast Community College District. With a long life ahead, he’s confident his wish list of accomplishments will not only be met, but exceeded. 

For more information about Cardiac Services at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center, visit memorialcare.org/HeartVascular.