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Q&A: Montreal doctor recounts how he saved teen's life after she was in cardiac arrest for 42 minutes


A 17-year-old girl has been given a second chance at life thanks to the work of a medical team at the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC).

Rebecca Charland came close to death last summer after contracting a viral infection that affected her heart. She went into cardiac arrest for 42 minutes and her family feared the worst.

But now, she’s back at home and in good health with the help of a pacemaker.

Dr. Conall Francoeur, a pediatric intensivist at the Montreal’s Children’s Hospital, who was part of the team that saved her life, joined CTV News Montreal anchor Maya Johnson for an interview about the remarkable story.

This article has been edited for clarity and length. Watch the video above for the full interview.

CTV: Initially, Rebecca went to a hospital in Chateauguay because she was having intense headaches and losing consciousness. She was diagnosed with a urinary infection that had reached her kidneys. She took some antibiotics and went home but it got worse. She eventually was transferred to the Children's Hospital. What condition was she in when you first saw her?

DR. FRANCOEUR: When we first got the call about Rebecca, it was from an outside hospital who evaluated her on her repeat visit. And they described that Rebecca was feeling very unwell and that her vital signs were concerning. So what that showed was that there were signs that her heart wasn't working very well. And it wasn't clear at that point just how poorly her heart was working. But when she arrived to us overnight on a weekend, it was very clear just by looking at her how sick she was, and when you looked at the vital signs, that confirmed that we were quite worried about how her heart was working.

CTV: Take us through the process of how the team handled this case once you realized how serious and potentially life-threatening it was.

DR. FRANCOEUR: We had information from the outside hospital and we already had an alert that this was a kid who could be quite sick. It really is a team effort here. And so we spoke to our cardiologist and sent her some information and made sure that all those teams were ready to go once she arrived.

When she arrived we assessed just how sick she was. That's when we actually had the initial discussions about activating our ECMO (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation) team, which is the machine that helps support the heart and lungs because she was that sick. We were quite worried about how she was going to progress right in front of our eyes.

CTV: She went into cardiac arrest for 42 minutes. I can't imagine what that must have been like for her mother, for her family. It must have seemed just endless. What was it like for you guys in that almost hour?

DR. FRANCOEUR: When we have someone who comes in like Rebecca, who was as sick as she was, we knew that her having a cardiac arrest was not just a high risk, but it was almost a probability of almost 100 per cent at that point.

We were ready for it. So the important thing about a cardiac arrest is about the quality of resuscitation. We knew that she was at risk and so we had this ECMO team activated and available. That means it's a rapid deployment of state-of-the-art therapies with a perfusionist, with respiratory therapists, with surgeons, and with the ICU team. We knew that when that cardiac arrest happened, we needed to have those machines available to help with and support her heart because we were not going to get our heart started on its own because it was so sick.

CTV: This is really a team effort. Rebecca spent more than three months in hospital but she's been back at home since November. Is she able to live a relatively normal life?

DR. FRANCOEUR: Yes, that's it. And one of the things is that it wasn't just the ICU team at the Children's. We have a really unique opportunity at the MUHC in that we're attached to the adult site, so we're able to provide care along the age continuum.

The ECMO is used to support her heart and give her the opportunity to recover. But we weren't seeing recovery so we spoke to the colleagues at the Royal Vic who helped navigate this process and she was ultimately transferred there for therapies that we don't have available here that are usually mostly offered in adults. That's one of the key parts here is that she was able to improve because of that team effort.

She was gradually weaned off the ventilator, the heart support, and then was able to gradually go into the rehab process. Her main impediment now is that she has a little bit of a limp that was related to one of the injuries from one of our interventions, but is otherwise doing really well at home.

CTV: That must be very rewarding for you, as a doctor, who helped save her.

DR. FRANCOEUR: It's very rewarding for the whole team because we see that all that effort we went through was worth it and that hard, team effort on both sides of the hospital resulted in such a positive outcome for Rebecca. Top Stories

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