At the age of 40, Nora Doran couldn’t have been much healthier. A lifelong athlete, she had played competitive basketball before she met and fell in love with rugby. Once into rugby, she became co-captain of the University of Waterloo varsity rugby team and coached Nova Scotia provincial teams and played at the provincial and club levels in Nova Scotia after moving to Halifax in 2002 to work as a hydrogeologist with a local engineering firm. When she finally retired from rugby at 35, she picked up another high-intensity sport, Ultimate Frisbee.
With such an athletic background, what happened when Nora went to play a casual game of basketball with a recreational club in May 2018 came as a total shock. While she has no personal memory of what happened that day at the Canada Games Centre in Halifax, she recounts the story as it was told to her later:
“I wasn’t actively playing, it must have been between shifts when I suddenly collapsed. I dislocated my ulna at the wrist when I landed, and my heart went into arrhythmia and then cardiac arrest,” Nora says. “A man on the team sprang into action to give me CPR and someone called the lifeguards over from the pool. They came running with the defibrillator and delivered a single shock to restart my heart.”
Paramedics rushed Nora to the QEII Health Sciences Centre, where she was medically induced into a coma for five days of observation. Her husband, Mick, who she had originally met through rugby, stayed by her side every day, leaving only to tend to the couple’s two very young children in the evenings.
When she was finally released from the coma, Nora was completely disoriented. “I had no idea why I was in a hospital, with a huge cast on my arm and wires and tubes coming out of me,” she says. “Nothing anyone was saying to me was registering, it was like a dream.”
Thanks to her youth and overall health, Nora spent only two weeks in the hospital. During that time she was submitted to many tests, received an implantable cardio-defibrillator, and learned how to walk again after nearly a week in a coma.
“There is some damage to the heart but no signs of heart failure,” Nora says. “In addition to the defibrillator, I take beta blockers now, and have regular follow-ups with my cardiologist, Dr. Ciorsti MacIntyre. It’s hard to understand how this can even be my life.”
Nora is making her way back to normal life very gradually. She returned to work part-time last fall and, when she wasn’t permitted to drive for several months, she did a lot of walking. However, she hesitates to get back into sports until after she takes an upcoming stress test. “I don’t want this to be an event that keeps me out of sports, but I need to feel ready within myself,” she says. “Ultimately, I just want to be able to move on and get back to being regular me!”
As part of her healing process, Nora has chosen to participate in Dalhousie Medical Research Foundation’s Spring 2019 Molly Appeal, which is raising money for heart research in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.
“There is no explanation for my cardiac arrest,” Nora says. “Nothing in my family or personal history, nothing showed up in the genetic testing. We need more research to understand how and why cardiac arrest happens and how best to help people recover when it does.”