by Kindel VanCronkhite
Courtney and I lived life to the fullest as identical twins. On August 9, 1999 our life as twins ended tragically. It was 5:00 am and the phone rang.I couldn't imagine who would be calling so early so I checked the caller ID. It was my parents cell phone and I picked up quickly only to hear the most horrific news. "Courtney had another episode," said my stepfather and "we're on our way to the emergency". What he hadn't told me was that Courtney had been gone for 45 min. prior to the paramedics reviving her, only to get a faint pulse. I was hysterical by now and couldn't understand what ER or how to get there. My dad told me to wake my roommate to help me with the directions. I knew it was bad, but never in a million years did I think I was about to lose my best friend and twin sister.
When I reached the hospital, the chaplain was waiting and the doctor informed us "she's in a coma and her chances of survival are slim, that we should say our good-byes". I hung my head and started crying in disbelief. All I could think was that he didn't understand that we were twins and she wouldn't leave me to face the rest of my life alone. The next 24 hours played an integral role.Courtney was about to lose her life to a rare disease that we learned was "Long QT Syndrome", an abnormal interval in the heart rhythm diagnosable through a simple ECG. This syndrome is known to cause syncope (fainting) and in cases, sudden cardiac death. In hindsight, I recall an earlier tragedy in July of 1994. A devastating time for our family.my cousin Chrissy died suddenly in her sleep.
The doctors first thought she might have had a seizure (a common misdiagnosis for LQT). Chrissy left behind a husband and a 2-month-old infant. Courtney and I were only 18 at the time and very active in soccer. A few months later Courtney's "moaning and groaning" woke me and I shook her to wake her, but to no avail.I had to pour cold water on her to revive her. She didn't remember a thing and I remember her holding her chest in pain. Courtney had suffered a sprained ankle in a soccer tournament the prior weekend and was taking pain medication. When we phoned the doctor after the incident he told her that she must have over-medicated herself with the pain pills and we were satisfied with that. Over the next couple of years Courtney had many more "episodes" and fainted twice. Every doctor she saw gave her a "clean bill of health".
We're 24 now and Courtney is working at Continental Airlines in reservations. She was "startled" one day (can cause syncope in someone with LQT) and she fell face first into her computer. Yet another trip to the ER only to hear, "she's perfectly healthy". This is not acceptable anymore. She was not "perfectly healthy". After losing our cousin unexplainably, we weren't taking any more chances and immediately called our general practitioner. He found an abnormality on her ECG and referred her to an electrophysiologist. Dr. Gallinghouse diagnosed Courtney with LQTS (which is probably what killed our cousin) and immediately put her on a beta blocker. She was only on the medication for a year prior to that fatal August night.
On August 9th her fiancee found her, not breathing and called 911. They responded quickly but after 8 shocks, only got a "faint pulse". The ER team did everything .her organs were shutting down and her body was tired. The next 24 hours were the most precious yet the longest of my life. I wouldn't leave her side and I remember her squeezing my hand when I told her that "I loved her". She just couldn't hold on any longer and when Courtney died, so did half of me. Never before has my heart hurt so much. I didn't understand why God would take her from me so young. It's taken me months to realize that by being pro-active about this disease I might be able to help another affected family, and not feel sorry for myself.in such deep pain, I even considered suicide a few times. With Courtney as my "guardian angel", anything is possible.
I'm blessed to have had her in my life for 24 yrs. Unless you're a twin you can't imagine what it's like to lose your other half. Courtney was my constant companion, my best friend and my hero. I'm trying to focus on the positive meaning of Courtney's death instead of constantly asking why she had to die? I didn't want to turn lifeless having Long QT myself, so I contacted our local FOX news station and they ran a segment on Courtney and Long QT; the response was overwhelming. The station was flooded with calls from people that have experienced fainting for no apparent reason. Dr. Gallinghouse made appointments for 12 new patients in a matter of days. It's a start and I have great satisfaction knowing that because of Courtney others will be saved.