It was a Sunday night like any other for the Callison clan. After a long weekend of travel baseball, the family settled in for the upcoming week. It was so close to Christmas…just two weeks away; and while Brandi prepared dinner, Steve helped the four kids work on their Christmas gift lists. Life was good.
In retrospect, I can tell you there were signs. Around the age of 22, Steve began to have “episodes” where he would turn gray and lose consciousness for a moment. The doctors attributed what I now know to be syncope brought on by an arrhythmia to everything from a neurological pain reaction, to stress-induced panic attacks. However, not one doctor in fifteen years ever considered the possibility that this 6’4”, 210-pound, healthy, fit, and active 37-year-old man might have a congenital heart condition. No one thought to perform the echocardiogram (ECHO) or electrocardiogram (ECG/EKG) that might have saved his life.
It was a night like any other, and into the wee hours of the morning, I awoke to a sound. As any wife of thirteen years would do, I elbowed Steve and told him to stop snoring. But he wasn’t snoring. He was dying. The sound that haunts me to this day was Steve gasping for air as his heart went into arrhythmia for the last time. “Brandi I can’t breathe,” were the final words I would ever hear from the man I had loved for seventeen years.
On Monday, December 16, 2002, at the age of 37, Steven T. Callison suffered Sudden Cardiac Death (SCD). The SCD resulted from a heart condition known as Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy (HCM). At the time of his death, Steve left behind a wife and four children Courtney 13, Caleb 11, Christian 7, and Catherine 5. Because HCM is a congenital heart defect, there is a significant increase in the likelihood that the children of those affected with this condition will also be affected. Thus, in addition to being a 34-year-old widowed mother of four, I also had to contend with the knowledge that like my husband, any one of my children could succumb to Sudden Cardiac Death due to HCM.
You can all but imagine the overwhelming fear that I felt several years later when my two older children Courtney (21) and Caleb (20) began to have episodes of syncope. My worst nightmares were being realized. At approximately the same age that Steve’s HCM first presented and without access to affordable healthcare, my two oldest and I would have to agonize over the knowledge of HCM, and it’s deadly course coupled with the not-knowing of whether or not their hearts were actually compromised. And then something amazing happened… and her name is Holly Morrell.
Holly Morrell has also lived with the devastating reality that is HCM. After losing multiple family members through the multi-generational genetic transmission of HCM, Holly has made it her life’s work to help prevent other families from experiencing the devastating grief of losing a loved one from an undiagnosed heart condition. She accomplishes this mission through her non-profit organization Heartfelt, which offers free or low-cost cardiac screenings for everyone, not just those with a family history.
Within 24 hours of speaking with Holly about my experiences and fears, she had arranged for each of my four children to be screened by staff members of the Heartfelt team. What a gift! I am relieved to say that the echocardiogram (ECHO) and electrocardiogram (ECG/EKG) results for Courtney, Caleb, Christian, and Catherine were all within normal ranges. And while they will have to be diligent about their heart health and continue to receive ECHO and ECG/EKG screenings throughout their lifetimes, we can all breathe a sigh of relief that they currently have beautiful, healthy hearts. If it were not for Holly Morrell and the ongoing work of Heartfelt, the Callison family would not be able to boast such peace of mind. Words cannot adequately express the level of gratitude and appreciation that the Callison family feels toward the Heartfelt organization, staff, and of course, Holly…
These free and low-cost cardiac screenings provided through the dedicated work of Heartfelt Cardiac Projects are both necessary and valuable tools to help prevent others from enduring the tragic price paid by our family as a result of Steve’s undetected heart condition. To save one child, one adolescent, one athlete, one parent, one friend, or even one stranger from Sudden Cardiac Arrest is priceless…
With ‘heartfelt’ thanks and appreciation,