Doctors in awe at Kiri Armstrong recovery from heart issues


Leticia Armstrong and her superstar daughter Kiri. Photo / David Haxton

A Paraparaumu girl has made a spectacular recovery from a life-threatening and unusual heart condition.

Kiri Armstrong spent six weeks in Starship Children’s Hospital as doctors rectified her heart which at one stage had been racing at 211 beats per minute and pumping at a mere 6 per cent capacity.

Kiri, who is passionate about cheerleading, was living a healthy normal life as any 10-year-old should but in September started complaining to her parents Leticia and Rik Armstrong about a sore tummy.

She was off-colour, not her happy self, and even during a walk through Coastlands shopping mall had to sit down because of pain.

Kiri went to Paraparaumu’s Team Medical twice, with nothing pinpointed, but on the evening of Sunday, September 26 she had tingling legs.

Leticia took her to Team Medical and clinical observations found a racing heart rate, which at one time reached 211 beats per minute, and not showing any sign of slowing.

Wellington Free Ambulance was called to help get her heart rate down but it became clear she needed to be taken to Wellington Hospital pronto.

Hospital doctors determined there was cardiomyopathy (something wrong with the heart muscle) and tachycardia (high heart rate) and she had to be sent to Starship, in Auckland.

The next day a Life Flight plane, with a cardio team on board, took her there, flying at a lower level because Kiri needed as much oxygen as possible.

Accompanying Kiri was Leticia while Rik caught a commercial flight after arranging for their two other girls Izzy and Ella to stay with his sister.

At Starship, Leticia and Rik were told any treatment for Kiri’s tachycardia and tachyarrhythmia was dangerous, but after consultation with a lot of specialists, all agreed the only option was hooking her up to an Ecmo (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation) machine.

“It’s the highest form of life support known,” Rik said.

To complicate things further, Kiri also had an extra sinus node (the natural pacemaker of the heart) in her heart which was overpowering her normal one meaning her heart pump was getting mixed messages.

“It meant her heart was getting bigger, and distressed, and sick,” Rik said.

“We were told Kiri’s damaged heart muscle was severe, which was why she had to go on the Ecmo machine, to give it a rest and get some function back.”

Leticia added, “When she to got Auckland her heart was pumping at 6 per cent.”

Rik, “It was sucking in blood but it wasn’t ejecting therefore she got tingling legs because there wasn’t a lot of circulation happening.”

Kiri, who was heavily sedated, stayed on the Ecmo machine for 11 days with two nurses monitoring her all the time – one looking after her, and one looking after the machine.

“They were awesome and doing stuff constantly,” Rik said.

When not at Kiri’s bedside, Letiticia and Rik were staying in the nearby Ronald McDonald House and were very impressed by the facilities and staff.

Kiri Armstrong spent six weeks in Starship Children's Hospital. Photo / David Haxton
Kiri Armstrong spent six weeks in Starship Children’s Hospital. Photo / David Haxton

And family, friends, and others who they didn’t know were very helpful.

“We were blown away by people’s support,” Leticia said.

When Kiri came off the machine she developed a blood clot in her leg which was quickly removed and measured about 15cm long.

Then it was about weaning off the cocktail of drugs and starting her recovery which included physio, nutrition, and more.

Kiri started to go back into tachycardia which led to heart mapping to see where the rogue sinus node was firing from.

Doctors were about to neutralise the rogue node via a procedure called ablation, which uses small burns or freezes to break up the electrical signals that cause irregular heartbeats, but then her heart decided to act normally so there was no procedure.

Sometime in the future, the rouge sinus node might disappear or reduce, or doctors will try another ablation when she’s older.

She was given more drugs with lots of care taken to make sure the dosage was right and her body could tolerate it.

Specialists from various departments kept popping in to see her and marvelled at how she was doing.

“It seemed like she was a superstar because her recovery was phenomenal,” Rik said.

Once her drug levels were right, she had a Holter test over 24 hours to measure heart rate and rhythm.

The results were very positive and led to her being discharged from the hospital.

They stayed in Auckland for a few extra days so Kiri could attend a cheerleading competition she was meant to attend with her sister.

“We got her dressed up and she ran on stage with her Big Air Kāpiti team and then went down and sat and watched them perform,” Leticia said.

While Kiri is back to her normal self, she does need a pill a day to keep her heart rate down and is receiving aftercare as well as support from Heart Kids New Zealand.

She wears a sports watch so her heart rate can be monitored and gives some piece of mind too.

The couple were humbled by the medical fraternity who cared for Kiri throughout her ordeal.

Rik: “Everybody did their part and saved her life.”



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