Local Schools Youth & young adult

The heart of the matter

by Kara Hansen

ROELAND PARK — It all ended like a made-for-TV movie.

But it began simply, on April 2, like any other day in the life of Bishop Miege sophomore Patrick Moore.

He drove to school, went to classes, talked to friends – the usual.

In his anatomy and physiology class that day, the lesson was on heart rates.

Typically, science teacher Alan Thomas taught his students to measure their heart rate the usual way: by pressing two fingers to the pulse point on the underside of the wrist.

But on a whim that day, Thomas had borrowed the school nurses’s pulse oximeter to measure the students’ heart rates instead.

As the students lined up to take turns with the machine, Thomas explained how they should check both their resting and recovery heart rates, and the range of normal rates.

When it was Patrick’s turn to take his pulse, however, he wished he’d paid closer attention.

“I was surprised,” said Patrick. “I thought maybe I’d done something wrong.”

His heart rate registered abnormally high — 160 bpm (beats per minute). A normal resting heart rate is usually between 60 and 90 bpm.

When Patrick informed his teacher, Thomas was immediately alarmed.

“I coach runners,” explained Thomas, “so I’m used to someone having a higher heart rate when they’ve been running and are breathing heavily.

“But Patrick was just sitting there in class and I knew his heart rate should not have been that high.”

Thomas walked Moore down to the office of school nurse Maura Peterson, who took his heart rate again and tried several ways to see if it would go down at all.

It didn’t. So Peterson notified his parents and sent the teen — still feeling fine — straight home.

“Patrick’s heart rate was extremely significant, but we didn’t know what was causing it,” said Peterson.

She was so concerned she called the Moores again the next day to make sure they had followed up with a doctor.

They had, and the next three weeks were a whirlwind of doctor’s appointments, as physicians tried to determine what was wrong with Patrick’s heart.

A chest x-ray and an EKG at Patrick’s pediatrician’s office both came back negative for indications of a heart problem.

Then, since Patrick had just returned from a spring break mission trip to Mexico, doctors considered the possibility that he might have contracted some tropical disease.

“It was an eight-day period for us that was almost like an episode of “House,” said Bob Moore, Patrick’s father. “We were taking Patrick’s temperature and his heart rate every four hours, trying to figure out if he had some form of rare infection. It was perplexing for the longest time.”

One of the few things going right during those long days, said Patrick’s mother, Debbie Moore, was the support the family received from the school staff, parents and students.

“The entire Miege community was great,” she said. “They sent cards, came to visit Patrick in the hospital, and friends were always bringing food over to the house.

“We couldn’t even keep up with the sheer volume of e-mails and phone calls from people offering their support.”

Finally, a referral to a pediatric cardiac specialist produced the answers the Moores were looking for: Patrick was diagnosed with ectopic atrial tachycardia.

Simply put, at some point Patrick’s heart had formed an extra piece of tissue that had recently become active. The extra tissue somehow caused his heart to enlarge.

That forced it to work twice as fast to pump as much blood volume as normal, which accounted for his increased heart rate.

Doctors told the Moores that it would not have been long before Patrick would have started showing serious symptoms — if he was lucky.

“When you read about kids who drop dead playing sports,” said Bob, “it’s usually because of this diagnosis or a very similar one. The only symptom they show at first is an irregular heart rate and most people don’t notice that right away.”

By the time it’s actually diagnosed, the heart has usually undergone incredible damage.

“Patrick’s doctor told us that by the time most people are first seen, over 30 percent will go straight to the transplant list,” said Bob.

Patrick was one of the lucky ones — and he has his science teacher and a school nurse to thank for it.

But Thomas won’t take any credit for what he says was basically “a fluke.”

“I arranged to borrow the pulse oximeter just the day before,” said Thomas, “and didn’t originally intend for all the students to take their heart rates. And Patrick was one of the last two or three students in the class to try it.

“It would have been really easy for us to run out of time in class or for him to have taken it incorrectly, and we would not have caught it.”

But Miege president Joe Passantino sees it as more than a fluke, “I like to call this the ‘Miege miracle’; it was really God’s hand at work,” he said. “Alan, Maura, and Patrick’s parents all followed up and played a role each step of the way in getting Patrick what he needed to be diagnosed and treated.

“Even though you could look at this situation as a fluke, it really was everyone doing their part that made it happen,” he said.

But neither Thomas nor Peterson consider “their part” completed yet.

“Each year when I teach the lesson on heart rates,” said Thomas, “I will tell Patrick’s story as a way to encourage my students to pay attention when they measure their heart rate — to let them know how important it is.”

Peterson, likewise, is recommending to the administration that all students learn about their heart rate and how to take it.

“All the students at Miege [will now be] learning this their freshman year in health class,” said Peterson. “We want to make sure every student here has been taught this.”

For his part, Patrick is just glad to be enjoying his summer and getting ready to start his junior year of high school — all with a clean bill of health.

“I think this was a really lucky, great situation and I’m very grateful to everyone here.

“I don’t know what would have happened if this had not been caught when it was,” said Patrick.

He smiled, paused, then added softly, “I guess I do know.”

About the author

Kara Hansen

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