10-year-old girl’s schoolyard heart attack
Kaitlyn Hunt should not be alive after surviving a freak event that her doctors cannot explain.
On November 2, she collapsed suddenly in the playground of Smithfield Public School. Classmates thought she'd tripped over but Kaitlyn had suffered a cardiac arrest, an extremely rare medical event for a child that very few survive.
She was clinically dead for eight minutes while a teacher and paramedics kept her heart beating through CPR.
The odds were stacked against Kaitlyn, a quiet young girl who loves playing handball and basketball. But she beat them.
For the first time, Kaitlyn, her family and the paramedics that helped save her life have shared the remarkable recovery that has doctors mystified.
"We don't ask to win anything else in life, we have already won," her father Gregory Hunt said.
"We can give that luck to someone else."
Three months since the cardiac arrest, doctors still have no clue as to what caused it.
Kaitlyn had no pre-existing medical conditions and tests carried out so far have not identified any problems with her heart.
Yet she is getting ready to return to school this week for the first time since the traumatic events of November 2.
Mum Huong Hunt was at home washing the dishes inside their Wetherill Park home just after lunch when a call came through from her daughter's school.
In another area of the school, Kaitlyn's older sister Maddison was collecting recycling.
"I was worried but they told me she'd be OK, so I went back to doing what I was doing," Maddison, 12, said.
"Then the teacher got me out of class and I went down to the office."
Meanwhile, Mrs Hunt raced out the 2km to the school.
By the time she arrived, Kaitlyn's teacher Kathryn Sander and the first aid officer had been performing CPR on Kaitlyn for a few minutes while other staff moved the schoolchildren out of sight.
For the first time in her life, Ms Sander had to draw on her annual CPR training and start chest compressions.
"The fact Kaitlyn took a breath when we started CPR, (the first aid officer) and I looked at each other and say 'we are doing this right'," she said.
Within four minutes of receiving the triple-0 call at 1.24pm, Liverpool Ambulance Station paramedics Brian Ingram and Kelvin Le arrived at the school.
Intensive care paramedics Dominic Carr and Bernadette Williams arrived next.
"We rarely get paediatric arrests," Mr Carr explained.
"They are quite common for those that have some kind of history but, a healthy child, it's very rare. As a (ambulance) service, you only see one or two a year."
NSW Ambulance responded to just over 110 paediatric arrest cases last year, about 10 each month, but a majority had pre existing conditions.
Mr Carr said the quick actions of staff that day was paramount to Kaitlyn's survival, and survival with no permanent brain injury.
For a crucial eight minutes, Kaitlyn's heart had stopped beating on its own.
University of Sydney Professor and cardiologist Dr Chris Semsarian said only one in 10 young people who suffered a cardiac arrest made it to hospital.
"Eight minutes is quite a long time and you might expect there may be some brain damage," he said.
"She is extremely lucky and has beat the odds in terms of survival."
The paramedics used a defibrillator to deliver shocks to Kaitlyn's chest and, after the second round, her heart started beating again.
She had suffered a collapsed left lung from the compressions but, most importantly, she had a pulse.
The focus turned to getting Kaitlin to the The Children's Hospital at Westmead as quickly as possible.
NSW Police organised a lights and sirens escort and the ambulance was given a "green light run" down the Cumberland Highway to the hospital about 10km away.
While Kaitlyn was treated in the paediatric intensive care unit, her parents began to worry about the impact the cardiac arrest had on her brain.
"The doctor said it was around the eight minute mark (that her heart had stopped beating)," Mr Hunt said.
"That was when the alarm bells went off in me. I wasn't worried about the heart, I was more worried about her brain.
"You don't have to be a rocket scientist to know you are in dangerous territory."
After 48 hours in an induced coma to give her body time to recover, Kaitlyn opened her eyes.
"I explained to her in the hospital that everyone was born with a little battery in their heart and her battery needed a little sleep," Mr Hunt said.
Acting Inspector James Grey said, in his 26 years as a paramedic, he had never seen a child survive a cardiac arrest.
"After 26 years it's heartbreaking to do so many deceased kids and there is nothing to do for them," he said.
"To finally have one kid brought back, it is like Christmas."
Ms Williams, an intensive care paramedic based at Bankstown, called it "miraculous".
"I have never brought a child back from cardiac arrest," she said.
Undoubtedly, the paramedics believe the CPR performed on Kaitlyn by school staff in those crucial first minutes saved her life and wellbeing.
"The first staff on scene … if they hadn't done good, effective CPR, Kaitlyn would probably be alive today but she would probably have some sort of deficits," Mr Carr said.
A defibrillator was placed inside Kaitlyn's chest to monitor any irregular heartbeats as the family awaits test results that may provide answers about the 10-year-old's condition.
Mr and Mrs Hunt can't help but feel overly protective.
In the back of their minds they worry if there will be a second cardiac arrest and when.
But, equally, they know they must slowly let Kaitlyn, who has little memory of what happened, return to a life that is as close to normal as pre-November 2020.
That might not mean a full game of basketball at school but participating in a few minutes at a time.
Meeting the paramedics that helped save his daughter's life on Wednesday, a teary Mr Hunt struggled to find the words to adequately describe his gratitude.
"To say thank you is such a small word but it has a huge meaning," he said while his laughing daughters played basketball in the garage of Liverpool Ambulance Station outside.
Originally published as 10-year-old girl's schoolyard heart attack