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After heart attack, Oberlin College student aims to raise awareness

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    From left, Rosie, Daisy, Nanette, Matt and Olivia Bentley pose together. Olivia Bentley, 19, was recently diagnosed with a genetic heart condition, after suffering a heart attack while at her dorm at Oberlin College in November.

    PHOTO PROVIDED

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    Olivia Bentley, 19, sits with her dog, Wilbur, roughly a week after she had a heart attack while at her dorm at Oberlin College November 12. Since then, she has been diagnosed with CVPT, a genetic condition characterized by arrhythmia, and is urging others to get tested for genetic disorders.

    PHOTO PROVIDED

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OBERLIN — Olivia Bentley, 19, collapsed in her Oberlin College dorm about a week before Thanksgiving break. She was having a heart attack.

Her neighbor called 911 and the security guard who responded was able to use a defibrillator on the then-18-year-old, before she was rushed to Mercy Allen Hospital and flown to Mercy Health Regional Medical Center in Lorain for treatment.

“I like woke up and had a (internal) defibrillator and everything was different,” she said.

In the weeks since the Nov. 12 incident, Bentley has been adjusting to that change and learning to not take anything for granted — while rushing to finish out her work for the fall semester and spending the holidays with her family in Cincinnati.

“It just made me realize that things change so quickly and unexpectedly, and I just need to maybe do the things that I was scared to do before or just be more confident in myself and live my life to the fullest, because things can really change in an instant,” she said.

Bentley and her family sent out for genetic testing after the incident, knowing only her heart attack was caused by some kind of arrhythmia. On Thursday, she found out it was caused by catecholaminergic polymorphic ventricular tachycardia, or CPVT. A genetic condition characterized by an abnormal heart rhythm, the U.S. National Library of Medicine lists triggers including physical activity or emotional stress and states that it can cause light-headedness, dizziness and fainting.

While episodes typically begin in childhood, according to the National Library of Medicine, Bentley first had symptoms when she was about 16 years old — fainting during her sophomore year at Turpin High School.

“I had fainted in the past, but nothing indicated that it was a heart problem,” she said. “We thought that I just hadn’t eaten enough that day or something, and it happened twice in the past. And this time was the first time that I passed out and had cardiac arrest, so that led us to know that it is a heart condition. That was very surprising for us.”

Bentley’s parents, Matt and Nannette, made the roughly 3½-hour drive to Lorain from Cincinnati following the incident. Her family and friends are adjusting to the news just as much as Bentley is.

“I think it was pretty hard for lots of people to deal with because it was pretty scary there for a minute,” she said. “Like, I’m very lucky to be alive, so it’s been a big journey for all of us.”

Now that she’s back home and doing well, she’s getting back to the things she loves to do — like going to the gym and playing in a band. A music major at Oberlin College, she’s always working on new songs and practice with her band — even if they don’t have a name yet.

And, at the request of Mercy Health, she’s sharing her story to highlight the seriousness of untreated or untested heart conditions.

“It’s really important because my mom’s dad actually passed away from cardiac arrest when he was 27, and he was also a perfectly healthy person as it seemed,” she said. “It’s just important for families to be aware of what runs in the family because it can impact young people. And I think people are really surprised to hear that an 18-year-old went through cardiac arrest because that’s something that usually happens to much older people, but it is more common than you really think.”

Contact Carissa Woytach at 329-7245 or cwoytach@chroniclet.com.
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