Olivia’s story: A young life lost to sudden cardiac arrest

EDITOR’S NOTE: Corinne Ruiz shares with us the heartbreaking story of her daughter Olivia, who died at age 14 from sudden cardiac arrest attributed to Long QT Syndrome.

April 22, 2004, my life was changed forever. My 14-year-old daughter, Olivia Corinne Hoff, died of sudden cardiac arrest.

Olivia_school_sudden_cardiac_arrestOlivia was the perfect picture of health, so I thought. She was always involved in sports and cheerleading; so of course there could be nothing wrong with my daughter. About 2–3 weeks before Olivia died, she complained about being lightheaded, as if she were going to faint. She started having bad headaches, left arm pain and severe neck pain. Then one night, Olivia came running out of her room. She was having trouble breathing with pain in her chest. I remember holding her and calming her down until she was okay. I told her that she was going to see her doctor.

I made the appointment, but her doctor wasn’t in, so she was seen by another doctor. The day of our visit, the doctor listened to her heart, checked her blood pressure and said everything was normal. He then asked Olivia about how she felt before her visit. We both explained to the doctor about the chest pain and all of the symptoms she experienced a few nights before. After listening to us, his diagnosis was “stress.” I remembering thinking “OK, she is a freshman in high school and does have a lot going on, so OK, she just needs to slow down.”

I accepted this diagnosis and we left.

Little did I know that Easter Sunday, April 11, 2004, would be Olivia’s last day alive. As I look back, I can remember what a wonderful day we had at the park with all of our family. Olivia looked so pretty. I can still see her smile.

Our day at the park ended and we came home. We spent the rest of the evening together, watching movies. Around 10 p.m., I said goodnight, as I had to get up for work the next day. Olivia came into my bedroom a few minutes later and told me she was going to her friend Jordan’s house, who lived two houses down. I told her okay but to come right back, as she had school the next day. I will never forget how she kissed me good night and said “I love you mom, see you in the morning.”

The next morning I got out of bed, took my shower and, as usual, went into Olivia’s bedroom to wake her up for school. I remember walking into her room, opening her window blinds and saying “Olivia, it’s time to get up.”

I looked at her and my first thought was she must have gotten hot during the night because she was uncovered and her right arm and leg were hanging off the bed. I called her name again and there was no answer. This horrible fear and panic came over my entire body as I touched her, she wasn’t breathing. I starting yelling her name, yelling at her to wake up but she didn’t move.

My son came running into the bedroom as I was crying and screaming. As I look back now, my poor son, he was trying to calm me down, have me dial 911 and tried to help his sister. The 911 operator was on the phone with me, giving me instructions to give to my son. I remember him gently picking Olivia up and placing her on the floor, as instructed. During this time all I could think was “This is not happening. Olivia can’t be dead, I’m dreaming, this is not real.” But it was.

The ambulance arrived and asked my son and me to leave the room. They immediately got Olivia ready for transport. We followed in our car. When we arrived at the hospital, we couldn’t see Olivia. Finally, after an hour, we were taken into a room where my daughter was. There she was, tubes and needles all around her body. My baby girl, how could this be? I remember touching her face, her hair and telling her “Olivia, you’ve got to be okay. Mommy can’t live without you.” There was no response.

Olivia was unresponsive, and for 3 days, doctors were trying to figure out why this seemingly, healthy 14-year-old girl would go into sudden cardiac arrest. They just didn’t know. In the meantime, Olivia went into “Code Blue” several times and everytime she did, I just fell to the floor and cried. Doctors, tests and more tests, then finally, a diagnosis: Olivia had Long QT Syndrome.

When I was told, I just looked at the doctor and said, “What is Long QT Syndrome? Why didn’t I know? Why didn’t the doctor detect this when she was last seen? I don’t understand any of this.”

My body and mind were numb; I felt as if I were lost in a fog and couldn’t find my way. The doctors decided it would be best to have Olivia airlifted to the Childrens Hospital in Los Angeles, which was about an hour away. I rushed home, got some clothes together and went back to the hospital. The helicopter arrived and the special team of doctors went into Olivia’s room and prepared her for her flight. When we arrived at the Childrens Hospital, Olivia was in a room, hooked up to the breathing machine, with all the tubes and needles around her body. For the next 7 days, the doctors continued to run test after test. During this time, there was nothing I could do, as nurses would use suction to clear Olivia’s throat and each time they did, my daughter’s body would react and I could see tears in her eyes. I told the nurses they were hurting her, look she’s crying. They told me it was just a “gag reflex,” that she didn’t feel anything. Each day more tests, scans to check for brain activity, and each day, Olivia’s body would go into convulsions.

Ten days later, April 22, 2004, the doctors told me that Olivia no longer had any brain activity, that her convulsing would get worse, that Olivia’s body was slowly starting to shut down. It was time to take my baby girl off the breathing machine. My husband and I were faced with a decision no parent should have to make; we had to let our Olivia go. The nurses allowed me to clean Olivia for the last time. I changed and cleaned her the way I did when she was a baby. I brushed her hair, kissed her perfectly polished “pink toes” and told her it was time to go home. We watched and cried as Olivia took her last breath.

Today, 6 years later, I cry for my daughter every day. Not a day goes by that I don’t ask myself:

If only I had been told that there are screening tests or preventative treatments.

If only I had known that my Olivia looked normal but her heart wasn’t.

If only I had known about Long QT Syndrome.

If only I had known, then maybe my daughter would still be here with me.

I am now Olivia’s voice. I am committed to raising sudden cardiac arrest awareness in my community. My daughter’s death will not be in vain. My daughter’s memory will live on and will never be forgotten.

Olivia Corinne Hoff
June 27, 1989 – April 22, 2004