Routine checkup saves twins' lives

JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) -  Racking up kills, scoring goals and finding success in nearly every sport is the driving force behind a couple of Valley View freshman. They're sisters, teammates and victims of a dark and well-hidden medical condition that could have killed them both.

Their story unravels right at the heart and how a typical Sunday afternoon became anything but.

Sudden Cardiac arrest claims the life of an American athlete every three days. Thanks to a valuable screening tool, an event that Craighead County athletes have come to rely on and a physician trained to spot abnormal heart rhythms, Bailey and Morgan McAlexander, and their mom, can breathe a little easier.

They're identical twins, similar in every way, right down to the one potentially deadly flaw neither one knew about.

"They said they found something abnormal about the EKG's," said Daya Shipman, the girl's mother. Her daughters were among the 12-hundred student athletes screened during the St. Bernards Health and Fitness Expo.

Something was wrong with the electrical rhythms of their heart. "The twins had an extra electrical connection between the top and bottom on the left side of the heart," Dr. Devi Nair told Diana Davis.

Dr. Nair ordered stress tests the very next morning. The diagnosis: Wolf Parkinson White Syndrome. It causes a rapid heartbeat leading to sudden cardiac death. It's rare, with only one case in a thousand.

The twins' mom says the news was devastating. "You can imagine how a parent must feel to be told not one, but two of their children have to undergo a procedure on their heart... All in the same day."

Within minutes of reading the stress test results, Dr. Nair knew what she had to do. "We performed a procedure called cardiac ablation procedure.  Where they were put to sleep and we inserted small IVs in their leg and through that, we passed little electrical wires up to their heart." said Dr. Nair.

Morgan went into the lab first and was sedated. "So we went to the left side of the heart.  Found out where the electrical short circuit was.  We tested it.  While we were testing it, the twins did go into cardiac arrest and had to be resuscitated." said Dr. Nair.

Both girls had the same reaction and both reverted back to normal once the short circuit was eliminated. 

According to Dr. Nair, the heart's normal junction box is between the top and bottom of the chamber. "We say it's God's gatekeeper, cause that junction box prevents the heart from going too fast.  It knows when to stop."

However, the extra wiring the twins had allowed for a "detour" that could have proved to be deadly, especially when they played sports.

Follow up visits show normal heart rhythms for both girls. They returned to school the next day and are back to playing all sports. "The first days we were back, we were a little tired and sore." Bailey said.

"Now we'll definitely get to play sports without something tragic happening," Morgan told Diana Davis.

Their mother, Daya, says there is a silver lining. "They tell you your child has something that could lead to tragedy... But we can fix it and we can fix it fast and they won't ever have this problem again. So I really consider myself just blessed."

There's no way to know for sure whether the twins would have suffered cardiac arrest at some time in their athletic careers.

But, once they were red-flagged for an abnormal heart rhythm, they would not have been allowed to play.

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