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Mariah Berczel: Arrhythmogenic Right Ventricular Cardiomyopathy

Mariah Berczel | UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute

The Problem: A Loss of Consciousness

Mariah Berczel, a patient care technician at UPMC Jameson, is a firm believer in being prepared.

“I’m a person who lived thanks to processes put in place and the quick action of those around me.”

For the 27-year-old, a swift response and devoted care team are a large part of the reason she's here today.

While living in Liberia and working with the Peace Corps., Mariah took up running as a hobby.

“I ran a 10k, a half marathon, and a full marathon, all in one calendar year,” she says.

But, as her time in the Peace Corps was coming to an end, she had her first cardiovascular event.

“I had a near loss of consciousness while in Liberia,” Mariah explains.

The event was seemingly random and baffling.

After her time with the Peace Corps ended, Mariah came back to the United States. She soon moved from southern California to western Pennsylvania, where her parents were moving.

Nine months after coming back to the U.S., Mariah had settled into life in Pa. She landed her job at UPMC Jameson and was thinking about going back to school. She also decided to train for her second marathon.

Still concerned about the strange near loss of consciousness she had in Liberia, Mariah had tests done. Doctors ultimately cleared her to return to exercise.

The Path to the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute: A Second Cardiac Event

One morning, Mariah was working out at her local YMCA when she suddenly started to experience tunnel vision. She got off the treadmill and went toward the back of the gym to sit down.

“The next thing I remember is waking up to medics all around me,” says Mariah.

Mariah’s friend had gone to the back to check on her, only to find that Mariah had passed out. The friend had just finished CPR and AED certification training the weekend before and jumped into action right away.

YMCA staff also observed that Mariah was in distress and quickly brought over the AED while calling 911.

After EMS learned that Mariah didn't have a pulse, they shocked her twice with the AED and rushed her to UPMC Jameson.

Doctors at UPMC Jameson examined Mariah. They then consulted with cardiologists and heart surgeons throughout UPMC using UPMC's secure teleconference system.

Together, they decided the best course of action was to transport Mariah to the Heart and Vascular Institute at UPMC Presbyterian.

Once at UPMC Presbyterian, Mariah met Raveen Bazaz, MD, an interventional cardiologist.

Dr. Bazaz began to review Mariah’s case and ordered further testing, including an MRI.

The Diagnosis: Arrhythmogenic Right Ventricular Cardiomyopathy (ARVC)

The MRI ended up being the most telling test.

“The MRI revealed that I had arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy,” Mariah says

ARVC is a type of heart muscle disease. It affects the ventricles or lower pumping chambers of the heart.

It can cause arrhythmias — or irregular heartbeats — due to the thin ventricular walls. These arrhythmias can cause the sudden cardiac arrest that Mariah suffered.

Mariah’s diagnosis was much more serious than she was expecting. But her trust in her care team reassured her that she would still be able to have a happy, fulfilling life.

“My diagnosis was not life-ending. It just meant I had to change the way I was living my life,” says Mariah.

Dr. Bazaz talked with N.A. Mark Estes III, MD, an electrophysiologist at the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute. They decided Mariah needed an implantable cardioverter defibrillator or ICD.

When Mariah got the news, she explained to Dr. Bazaz that she wanted to continue traveling once she got better. Dr. Bazaz ensured the ICD was most compatible with international protocols, as extra reassurance for Mariah.

A few days after the implant, Mariah went home.

The Result: A New Lease on Life

These days, Mariah is living her life feeling better than before her cardiac event. She follows up with Dr. Estes’s office and is grateful for the relationship she has built with them.

“The entire office is great. The nurses are quick to respond and work with Dr. Estes to adjust my medication as needed,” Mariah says.

Mariah is especially grateful for the time Dr. Estes’s team takes to explain things and ensure her meds are working.

“They really listen to me. If they need to adjust my medicine, they take the time to learn how it's affecting me while listening to my concerns.”

While Mariah can no longer compete in marathons, she's refocused her energy on other hobbies, including yoga and crocheting.

“I just have to look at my hobbies and interests and evaluate what's a risk and what I can continue to enjoy.”

One interest she's looking forward to getting back to is traveling.

“I’d like to get back to southern California to visit friends and family. And I’d love to go to Barcelona,” Mariah says.

Thanks to Dr. Bazaz, she has the peace of mind that her ICD meets international protocols.

Mariah is grateful for the quick action of those at the YMCA and her care at UPMC Jameson and UPMC Presbyterian. She's also grateful knowing she can continue to live a fulfilling life.

“I’m thankful that I was in a place that had people who knew CPR and a process in place for cardiac arrest. And I was quickly able to get the care I needed at UPMC,” Mariah says.

Mariah's treatment and results may not be representative of similar cases.

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