“I feel lucky to be alive” - Rehana’s story

Rehana Browne

Flautist Rehana Browne says she feels nothing but gratitude after surviving a cardiac arrest at the age of 22. She tells her inspirational story to Sarah Kidner.

Flautist Rehana Browne, 23, says she feels “lucky to be alive” after suffering a cardiac arrest while exercising at the gym.

“I’d had a concert and played the flute on the radio for the BBC and was due to play again on the Sunday night. I went to the gym, and apparently I collapsed quite suddenly and without warning. Luckily working out next to me was a doctor and she gave me CPR while they called an ambulance. If I had been by myself I wouldn’t have survived.

“Not only that, but a man had walked in off the street about a half an hour before who was experiencing chest pains. The gym had called an ambulance for him, but his condition wasn’t serious, so I got his ambulance and they managed to defibrillate my heart quite quickly. It returned to a normal rhythm on the first shock.”

Medical coma

Doctors put London-based Rehana, then 22, into a medically-induced coma and told her parents there was a high risk she might be brain-damaged or disabled. “It’s one of the most horrendous, traumatic phone calls that a family can receive. But when I came out of the coma I recognised my parents almost instantly. It was obvious to them that I wasn’t brain-damaged.

Going through something like this tests your positivity, and some days you have to tell yourself to be positive

“I didn’t feel fear when I came around at all. I remember thinking this is the state that I’m in, but it is a temporary state and it is going to be OK.

“On the Wednesday, I remember a nurse singing to me. I had the most phenomenal care in the hospital. The fact that they were so sensitive to me and so amazing, I think that really helped.

“From the moment that I woke up in critical care I kind of decided that I was going to stay calm and that that was one of the things that would pull me through. I thought that my body and my mind are going through enough; you have to accept the situation as best you can.”

Gradual recovery

Doctors were unable to find any underlying condition but decided to fit her with an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD), which would try to restore the heart to a normal rhythm if Rehana had another cardiac arrest.

Rehana says: “The fear was that it can go wrong and I have never been in hospital, or had to have an operation. However, by that point I’d been in hospital for about a week and I just thought ‘this is the route to my recovery’ and I felt incredibly lucky to be offered it.

“Afterwards I saw the cardiologist’s face saying it’s all gone well, and the relief I felt - I have never felt anything like it – just pure joy.”

Rehana Browne playing the flute “Going through something like this tests your positivity, and some days you have to tell yourself to be positive and at times the recovery process has been quite frustrating. At first I couldn’t walk far. It’s the most demoralising thing, but I’d go out and walk for five minutes and build up, even if it was just a minute extra each day. On days when everything seemed too much I told myself that instead of seeing how far I had to go, I would look back and see how far I had come from when I was in hospital.”

Support from her family has also helped her to recover. “They never treated me any differently. Thank goodness I wasn’t injured in any other way and they weren’t paranoid or over-protective or anything,” says Rehana.

Rehana has since spoken to the doctor who gave her CPR. “She rang me by coincidence the day before my graduation. I don’t think she was sure if I wanted to speak to her but I was desperate to. I just wanted to be able to say thank because she gave me something so special. To be able to say thank you to her meant so much to me.”

Tunnel of Love

In 2013, Rehana spoke at our annual Tunnel of Love fundraising event. She says she wanted to make people aware that heart problems can affect anyone of any age.

I genuinely feel happy to be here and that I have no damage

“I wanted to in some way support the BHF. I felt that perhaps many people don’t think that a cardiac arrest could happen to someone like me. I have never drunk a drop of alcohol in my life and I have never smoked – it’s something that never occurred to me. I never thought that one day just like that my heart would just stop pumping.

“At my age you don’t think about your own mortality. People have asked aren’t I angry about the fact it happened, but I genuinely feel happy to be here and that I have no damage. All I feel is gratefulness.

“Anything I do for the BHF I feel is good for my soul as well. To be able to give something back to you is important to me. People thanked me for coming, but I feel that involving me in it puts something to rest in me as well.”

On the day she came out of hospital, Rehana says she remembered that the morning of her cardiac arrest she’d changed the alarm sound on her phone to a new song. “I went back to see what it was and the words that I had woken up to that day were ‘Keep your head up, keep your heart strong, keep your mind set in your ways, keep your heart strong’. It sends shivers down my spine because I didn’t know that that’s what I was going to have to do for the next few months.”

Read how Peter developed post-traumatic stress disorder after his cardiac arrest

Learn how Ed battled depression after a heart attack

Coping with a heart event: a BHF Professor of Psychology answers your questions

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