'MOANING DEATH': Man lives with rare sudden death syndrome

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Tuesday, September 25, 2018
Man diagnosed with sudden death syndrome
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Man diagnosed with sudden death syndrome

HOUSTON, Texas -- A man said he found out he has a rare genetic condition when his heart stopped twice in one day. One of the times happened while he was driving in Liberty, Texas.

Back in March, Karl Wiggins, 54, collapsed while behind the wheel with his mother in the vehicle.

"My hands fell off the wheel and my head dropped," Wiggins told Eyewitness News.

His mother took the wheel and thankfully they didn't crash. A passerby called 911 and jumped in to help. Wiggins, at that moment, was dying.

"I was blue and cold and he started giving me chest compressions," Wiggins recalled.

He was transported by Life Flight to Memorial Hermann Hospital, where doctors revived him. But his heart kept stopping. No one knew why until doctors looked at his test results.

"We evaluated his EKG and we noticed that he had what we called the Brugada pattern," said Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee, who also characterized it as "sudden death syndrome."

According to medical experts, Brugada syndrome is a rare genetic heart condition that causes cardiac death.

"To a certain extent, there is no telltale signs, but there are certain warning signs. If you've got a healthy male, typically what's described as a healthy male in his 20s or 30s, Asian...with free, frequent palpitations, dizzy spells, fainting spell," Dr. Mukherjee explained.

Oftentimes, people with the condition can be heard moaning in the night and then suddenly dying, hence the nickname "The Moaning Death." Some actually believe it's connected to spirits and the spiritual realm. Some patients described it like someone sitting on their chest.

"It's actually interesting that people have mentioned it in that fashion," said Dr. Mukherjee. "I suspect it's the Southeast Asian culture, if you will, that plays a little role in this."

As for Wiggins, doctors installed a special defibrillator.

"(It's) like having an EMT standing by with a defibrillator really ready to shock you back to life," he said.

Wiggins, who works for United Airlines, he's back to his adventurous self. He's not afraid to drive and not afraid to die.

"I think if someone put a gun to my head and threatened to kill me, I would say, 'Shoot your best shot. I've been dead before,'" Wiggins said.

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