Comsewogue's Reindl's heartwarming story
Candace Reindl remembers the phone call -- "Come to the school! Hope collapsed!" -- and the frantic, frightening sequence that followed.
As the mother ran from their home to Comsewogue High School, little more than a block away, her initial thought was, "She must've injured her knee."
Candace entered the gymnasium to find her 17-year-old daughter unconscious on the basketball court, with two coaches performing CPR and more than 50 students huddled nervously. Candace joined in the resuscitation effort. No response, she said.
Hope stopped breathing for six minutes.
"You can't put into words what that's like," Candace said of that May 4 evening last year. "There are no words."
Inscribed on the back of Hope Reindl's Comsewogue bowling jersey, in place of her name, is "D-Fibb." It's short for defibrillator, the electronic device that shocked her heart back into rhythm and saved her life.
The senior joined the team this winter and has adopted the moniker. That she can make light of it now, nearly nine months later, "is nothing short of a miracle," Hope said.
Thanks to the quick thinking of coaches Justin Seifert and Rick Miekley, Hope survived a near-fatal heart attack in what doctors termed an "aborted sudden cardiac death."
"She would've died had she not had an immediate intervention," said Dr. Laurie Panesar, a Stony Brook University Medical Center cardiologist who treated Hope. "Sudden cardiac death is what it sounds like. It's scary because it's sudden and doesn't come with many warning signs."
It's also rare (one in 300,000) in youngsters with no genetic predisposition, Panesar said.
Hope, a lifelong athlete in good physical condition with no history of heart problems, according to her parents, collapsed eight minutes into an intramural basketball game.
"She scored a basket early but looked lethargic a couple minutes later," said Seifert, the girls varsity basketball coach. He was supervising the game, which started at about 7 p.m. "She suddenly stopped and went into a crouch, and I ran to her. I started talking to her, then she collapsed."
Seifert said he signaled for Miekley, the boys coach, and called 911. Hope's breathing was "labored," Seifert said, "and within a minute, it stopped."
The coaches said they had a student retrieve the AED (automated external defibrillator) from the hallway just outside the gym while they performed CPR. Shortly thereafter, Hope's mother arrived.
"I was yelling, 'Come back! Fight!' '' said Candace Reindl, a former elementary schoolteacher who had received CPR training.
Once the device was set up, "it started looking for a heartbeat and then warned that a shock was advised," Seifert said. He and Miekley were putting their AED training to use for the first time. "You hit the button, stand back and pray."
Hope soon gasped for air, he said, and they continued CPR until the paramedics arrived.
"The stars aligned well for this girl," Panesar said, adding that the resuscitation was "tantamount to what she'd have gotten in an ER."
Hope was taken to Mather Hospital in Port Jefferson, where she was stabilized before being transferred to Stony Brook that night. Hope's father, Carl Reindl, said she regained consciousness the next morning (May 5), though she had difficulty processing and retaining information.
She had an internal defibrillator implanted (above the heart, beneath the pectoral muscle) on May 6, her parents said, and was discharged the next day. "All her organs were functioning normally," Panesar said, and she made quick progress.
Hope, who said she has no memory of the collapse or her time in the hospital, returned to school 10 days later.
"I never used to think anything could happen to me," Hope said. "To think, if I wasn't where I was, the outcome would've been very different . . . I can't thank enough."
Hope's May 4 varsity softball game had been rained out, and friends invited her to play pickup basketball. She was a star catcher drawing college interest and her parents, fearing a basketball injury, reluctantly permitted her to go.
What Hope suffered was "catecholaminergic polymorphic ventricular tachycardia," Panesar said. "It's an episode brought on by stimulation from the nervous system. In her case, it was sports."
Hope's life has mostly returned to normal, but she says she no longer can play sports that involve contact or can induce bursts of adrenaline. That includes softball.
She's now looking at colleges with visual arts and culinary programs. The ordeal and subsequent restrictions are "extremely frustrating," Hope said.
As well, Candace has concerns that her other children (Emma, 18, Owen, 14 and Aidan, 13) could be susceptible to a similar episode.
The positive, obviously, is that Hope survived and now is aware of the condition. She had felt palpitations "a few times" while catching on hot days, she said, "but I didn't think it was abnormal."
Monthly visits to the cardiologist have returned clean results and the internal defibrillator, which monitors heart rate, has detected no irregularities thus far, Carl said.
Last fall, Hope was cleared to participate in two scholastic sports: bowling and golf. She had bowled only recreationally ("maybe once a year'') previously, but she tried out two weeks before the season and earned a starting position. The 234 she rolled in her first game Dec. 6 "was like hitting a home run," she said.
Turns out Hope, who had received all-district honors in softball after batting .474 in her junior year, was good at even more sports than she realized. She finished the regular season with a 147 average and helped Comsewogue clinch the League III bowling title last week. The Warriors will compete in Saturday's Suffolk championship tournament.
"For someone who hadn't really bowled before to do so well," teammate Christina Raccasi said, "it's amazing."
Since the incident, the Reindls and Comsewogue have raised money for the Louis J. Acompora Memorial Foundation, which helps provide AEDs to schools. The Comsewogue boys and girls bowling teams share a device, coach Brian Frimmer said, and at home matches, it's kept in a bag at the foot of their scorer's table.
Hope has promised to be careful -- and Frimmer monitors her pace -- but at Hope's behest, teammates have agreed to "not baby me."
As for the "D-Fibb" nickname: "There's no point in being down about it," Hope said. "Why not have a little fun with it?"
Teammates Renee Rocco and Deanna Clark said Hope "being able to joke about it" makes everyone less worried.
"Remembering that day and then seeing her smile now is the most rewarding thing," Seifert said. "How happy she looks to be alive."