Teen saved after heart stops on soccer field

Doctor says rescue highlights importance of AEDs

ADRIAN, Mich. - Emily Orta doesn't remember the day her life nearly ended on the soccer field last May.

"My friends were telling me how I was really tired that day," said Orta.

After her classes ended at Lenawee Christian School, she went to soccer practice.

"We were doing a shooting drill, missed the goal, went to go run and get the ball, and then when I was coming back is when I collapsed," said Orta.

Her heart had stopped. Someone immediately called 911.

"They called it in as a seizure," said Orta.  "That's what they thought was happening at first, but then they started to realize I wasn't breathing, I didn't have a heartbeat."

Orta's coach called her parents Autumn and Michael Orta.

"He said she had stopped breathing and they were currently getting someone to start CPR on her," remembered Autumn Orta.

Autumn and Michael Orta were both 45 minutes away.  As they raced to get to the school, the people on the field raced to save Emily Orta's life.

Someone ran to the pool to get the automated external defibrillator (AED) and lifeguard Andrew Greenwell, who immediately started CPR. Adrian Fire and Rescue arrived.

"They shocked my heart three times for it to finally start going again and even then it wasn't a regular heartbeat," said Emily Orta.

She was rushed to the local hospital, as her parents tried to imagine what had gone wrong.

"How did we get from her going to school being perfectly healthy that morning to we're in an emergency room, her on a ventilator?" asked Michael Orta.  "There's a first reaction where you kind of almost get negative.  I can't lose her. I just can't lose her."

Orta was flown to the University of Michigan's C.S. Mott Children's Hospital, where doctors ultimately made a shocking diagnosis.

"It's called ALCAPA, which is basically the initials standing for anomalous left coronary artery from the pulmonary artery," said Dr. Jennifer Romano, a pediatric cardiac surgeon at Mott.

In the most basic terms, Orta's heart wasn't connected properly.  It's a rare, life-threatening defect that's usually caught and repaired in infants.

"It's vanishingly rare to pick this up at this age," said Romano.

"It had a 90 percent fatality rate after the first year of birth, so the fact that she made it 14 years after birth and that we've been blessed for so many years without any issues, I'm just amazed," said Michael Orta.

The diagnosis was even more stunning because of how athletic Emily Orta had been throughout her life.

"She was in soccer and track and cheerleading and competitive cheer.  All these different things, extremely active child," said Michael Orta.

Orta had surgery to repair her heart last June.

"We took her to the OR and basically put her left coronary back where it belonged," said Romano.  "She's able to just go back and live a normal teenage life."

Emily Orta and her parents are forever grateful to the people who saved her life that fateful day and for the AED that helped them do it.

"I consider it a miracle," said Autumn Orta.  "Knowing that we could have lost her.  We should have lost her.  Medically, she shouldn't be here.  The fact that God gave her back to us better than what she was, is, it's, we're forever in debt."

Orta's school had an AED, but far too many don't.  Doctors at Mott Children's Hospital are trying to change that through Project Adam -- an effort to help prepare schools for sudden cardiac emergencies.

"You don't get a do-over. You don't get to take that moment back,," said Romano. "And so, hearing stories like this and seeing that it can truly happen to anybody, to anybody's child gives you that drive to really want to make sure that you have as many safety nets in place as possible, so that if something does happen, you have a way to save that child.  It's heartwrenching to see the other stories that could have been different by having a simple device available."

"It is literally the difference between life and death for some people, and in my case, it was," said Emily Orta.  "It's kind of scary to think about that at any moment in time your life can be taken away."

The incident also raises questions about how Orta's condition wasn't detected earlier.  Orta was diagnosed with a heart murmur as a baby, but no one ever thought it was anything serious. 

Romano said ALCAPA is so rare, and so unexpected in a teenager, it would have only been detected with an echocardiogram.  That is a test that is offered at more advanced student heart screenings, but Orta never participated in one of those screenings.

Orta hopes ultimately that her story can help others.

"I've heard a lot from other people, like God has a purpose for me, like 'He's going to use you for something great,' and, you know, that's something I do believe.  I do believe that God was the reason I am here today the way I am," said Emily Orta.  "I feel even better than I did before really."

To learn more about Project Adam, click here.  

You can find a student heart screening at Beaumont or Mercy Health.

To learn more about ALCAPA, click here



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