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Family Finds a Silver Lining in the Midst of Loss

Tulsa resident Glenn Harris started experiencing heart problems when visiting Australia, which led to him needing a pacemaker and defibrillator installed immediately. Upon returning to Tulsa, Harris needed to find continuing care, which is when he contacted Oklahoma Heart Institute and started seeing Dr. Wayne Leimbach, medical director, and Dr. David Sandler, director of electrophysiology.

Harris’ youngest daughter, Lauren, took him to many of his follow up appointments and rehab sessions when he first started visiting Oklahoma Heart Institute, becoming familiar with the faces around the hospital.

In February of 2018, Harris’ family received news that no one ever wants to hear. “Lauren, who had just turned 24 in January, suddenly passed away from arrhythmogenic right ventricular dysplasia (ARVD),” said Harris. “It was a total shock to everyone. Lauren was an incredibly healthy woman. She was 6’1, 150 pounds and in great shape. The morning we learned she had passed away, she was supposed to be leaving for a snowshoeing trip in Denver with her friends. Her roommate found her lying back on the bed as if she had maybe gotten a bit lightheaded and fell backwards.”

From his own experiences with heart failure, Harris had an idea of what his daughter’s final moments were probably like. “One minute you’re sitting there feeling okay and within seconds, you are completely weightless, so I feel like I have an idea of what she was going through. Unlike me, Lauren didn’t have a defibrillator. Dr. Sandler said that is probably the only thing that would have saved her.”

Following Lauren’s passing, Harris’ oldest daughter, Emily, underwent testing to see if she had ARVD, due to the genetic predisposition of the disease. “As soon as the doctors at Oklahoma Heart Institute heard about what happened to Lauren, they encouraged Emily to come in for a series of tests,” said Harris. “Once we received the details about what happened to Lauren, the doctors were able to decide what tests Emily needed to undergo. Under the supervision of Dr. Kamran Muhammad, interventional cardiologist, an EKG, echocardiogram, CT scan and an MRI were performed on Emily.”

The results from these tests were able to put Harris and his family at ease during a difficult time, proving that Emily does not have ARVD. “Emily was having a hard time dealing with the passing of her sister, especially the fact that Lauren’s passing was so out of the blue and no one was aware of her heart problems. It was comforting to know that Emily did not have ARVD.”

At the time Emily began the testing, she was a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) nurse with Hillcrest HealthCare System. She had worked with some of the providers at Oklahoma Heart Institute previously and had met Dr. Muhammad, so she was quite pleased when she found out he would be doing her testing. Due to the genetic nature of ARVD and Emily possibly starting a family in the coming years, she was encouraged to consider having her future children tested for the disease.

Harris and his family are grateful for the care they have received at Oklahoma Heart Institute. “Everything that has been done for us has been great,” said Harris. “It was a huge relief to all of us that Emily’s testing went well. It is unfortunate that Lauren did not have the chance to be a patient here.”

Since Lauren’s passing, the Harris family has been raising awareness for ARVD, working closely with the American Heart Association - Tulsa and participating in walks around the country. “So far, we have done walks in Tulsa, Austin, Denver and Fort Worth. We even worked with Dr. Leimbach to have the Oklahoma Heart Institute logo printed on the back of our t-shirts because it’s that important to us. We walk for Lauren and all of those who have passed from ARVD.”