34-year-old had AFib, cardiac arrest, cardiomyopathy

Danielle Allen

When 34-year-old Danielle Allen was 19, she was told she had a heart murmur. An echocardiogram showed a small pinhole in her heart. From that point on, she had annual cardiology visits. When she was 32, all that changed.

“I started feeling breathless, my chest felt heavy and I was dizzy,” Allen said. “I couldn’t ‘breathe one day, and my mother called 9-1-1. My oxygen level was fine, and EMS advised against going to the hospital. But three weeks later, I couldn’t even walk across the room.”

At that point, Allen was diagnosed with AFib. She had a heart rate of 200 beats per minute. An echocardiogram showed that she had hypertrophic cardiomyopathy – her left ventricle was bigger than the right ventricle. She had a small leak in a valve, and two small holes in her heart. She was put on medication.

Six months later, Allen was on the treadmill at the gym when she suffered a sudden cardiac arrest.

“Ulster Hose and Mobile Life responded, and took me to Vassar Hospital,” Allen said. “The prognosis wasn’t good. I seized all night, and was then in a coma for seven days. A scan showed no brain activity, and they prepared my family for my death.”

But when they were removing Allen from life support, she heard a nurse say, “It’s April 2.” Allen turned to her stepmother and said, “Happy birthday.”

After a month at Vassar Hospital, Allen was transferred to the Traumatic Brain Injury Rehabilitation Program at Helen Hayes Hospital in West Haverstraw.

“You don’t realize how much you take for granted,” Allen said. “I had to learn to walk again and to tell time.”

Heart disease interrupted Allen’s graduate studies, but not her wedding plans. In July 2018, she walked down the aisle without a walker, a goal she had set for herself. She had planned to have a pink wedding, but switched it to red, and has been a staunch supporter of the American Heart Association since then. Today, she’s been in grad school, working on a master’s in social work.

I’m grateful for Ulster Hose and Mobile Life, and Vassar Hospital,” Allen said. “I’m glad to share my story. I’ve learned that you have to advocate for yourself. Too often, people thought I was having a panic attack. I think if you have an anxiety disorder, you must advocate even more strongly for yourself. There is a whole community of survivors, and we all support one another.”

Allen has made a video that will be shown on the Facebook event page of the Virtual Dutchess-Ulster Heart Walk (found on the American Heart Association – New York State Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/events/1440917726071434/). The Virtual Dutchess-Ulster Heart Walk is set for Saturday, April 18. People are encouraged to walk or run where they are, and post pictures to social media, using the hashtag #HVHeartWalk and tagging the local American Heart Association on Facebook and Instagram at @AHANewYork, and on Twitter at @HVHeartAssoc. Information can be found at DutchessUlsterHeartWAlk.org, where donations can also be made.

“Donating to the American Heart Association can help save the lives of people like me,” Allen said. “I have an internal Cardio defibrillator that was not developed that long ago by the funding that allowed research to make this device.  It has already saved my life once since having a sudden cardiac arrest because it restarts your heart when those dangerous abnormal heart arrhythmias occur.”