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Girl's choking incident a blessing in disguise

Alana Kiceina, 11 from Mastic and her dad

Alana Kiceina, 11 from Mastic and her dad Alan, hang out in the from yard while her mom Joan and grandmother Virgina Marino look on. (Sept. 10, 2012) Credit: Randee Daddona

The corn chip didn't choke Alana Kiceina, as first suspected when the young Mastic girl went into cardiac arrest while playing with a family dog in April.

But it may have played a role in saving her life in the long run.

The seizure prompted doctors to implant a defibrillator in her chest and do a series of tests that eventually uncovered that she had a rare genetic disorder that leaves her vulnerable to heart attacks.

The device was installed May 4 and at a checkup on Aug. 1, her doctor found that the defibrillator had gone off May 28, potentially saving her life after another irregularity.

She is now on beta-blocker medication that should control the flow of adrenaline to her heart and allow her to live a normal life, according to her surgeon, Dr. Barry Love of Mount Sinai Medical Center in Manhattan.

Sitting in the family dining room with her parents earlier this week, Alana, 11, smiled a lot, but spoke mostly in soft, one-word answers to questions about her curious medical history.

Yes, she's feeling fine. No, her life has not changed. A little more careful? She shakes her head from side to side.

"But you remember to take your medicine," her father, Alan, said.

Her mother, Joan, added, "She knows what she can and cannot do."

Alana said she does not remember the defibrillator going off May 28, and her parents can't remember anything significant that day.

"I was trying to think of where we were," her mother said. "I was home that day and she said she didn't feel anything. He [Dr. Love] knew what day and time it happened, and how much her heart was beating."

Alana first went into cardiac arrest April 25 while eating a corn chip and playing on the front lawn with Pebbles, one of the family's three dogs. Construction worker Shawn Mitchell, 35, of Ridge, had stopped his truck at a nearby house to ask whether he could have some logs from a tree that was being cut down.

Mitchell, who had taken a CPR course while in the Army in the 1990s, administered first aid until Suffolk County police Officer David Frabizio arrived with a portable defibrillator.

Dr. Love said he never gave much credence to the corn-chip theory, and ordered genetic tests for CPVT -- catecholaminergic polymorphic ventricular tachycardia -- a rare genetic disorder first identified in 1975.

"You have to test for a specific thing. Based on her history, and we could see and what we couldn't see, I think this [CPVT] was most likely," Love said. "Her prognosis should be very good. . . . She should live a normal life."

For now, her parents, both 52, are waiting to take tests to see if they carry the genetic disorder. The results will dictate whether there will have to be testing for Alana's siblings, Joey, 23, Vinny, 18, and Julie, 16.

The Kiciena family will join Mitchell Thursday night at the Crest Hollow Country Club when he is honored with the American Heartsaver Award by the Long Island Region of the American Heart Association.

"Four years in the Army paid a dividend," said Mitchell, an operating engineer in the Army and in civilian life. "That little girl might not be alive if I hadn't taken the combat lifesaver classes."

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