A former cheerleader has devoted her life to helping amputees after losing both her legs to a rare genetic condition – which made her heart stop 78 TIMES.
Glam Nicole Grehn, 27, says she’s happier than she ever and wouldn’t trade her legs back “for anything”, sharing defiant snaps of her in in bikini while wearing prosthetics.
The brave 27-year-old was left on the brink of death when she collapsed out of the blue at a gas station and went into cardiac arrest.
She was suffering the symptoms of an inherited gene mutation which had gone undetected for 25 years – but doctors didn’t know that at the time.
The nursing student was rushed to hospital where baffled medics warned her parents she was likely to die as they desperately battled to save her.
Nicole’s heart stopped 78 times and she was shocked 78 times but hospital staff were unable to correct or pinpoint the cause of the irregular rhythm.
They cut open both her legs to release pressure due to swelling but she went into septic shock and they were forced to amputate to stop the deadly infection spreading.
Nicole recalls waking up from a coma to be given the devastating news that she was now an amputee and went on to suffer depression, anxiety and phantom limb pain.
Three months later she finally discovered that the entire ordeal had been caused by an ultra-rare genetic mutation called Catecholaminergic polymorphic ventricular tachycardia which had gone undetected for her entire life.
Now, two years on from the terrifying 2015 ordeal, Nicole has relearned how to walk and says she is over the moon that she is an amputee because it’s changed her life.
The trauma even prompted Nicole, who was studying nursing, to pursue a career as a physician assistant to support other victims of limb loss.
Brave Nicole, of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, said: “When I realized my legs were gone I cried and cried and cried.
“I instantly thought that everything I had worked so hard for over my life was over. It was like I was being punished for anything I had ever done wrong.
“It felt like someone had cut a hole in the bed, my legs were dangling down and one person was trying to rip them off while someone else was throwing bricks on me.
“I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.
“I was also such a go go go person so to then have people taking care of me and pushing me around.
“I hated being in a wheelchair and felt like a prisoner in my own body, so when I began my prosthetics journey it changed everything.
“I decided I was going to work my butt off and I did. I was determined to go back to work and school.
“That’s when I realized, this is where I’m supposed to be. I’m supposed to be in the medical field helping other amputees.
“I have really never been this happy in my entire life. I didn’t really value the things the way I do now.
“I wouldn’t trade my legs back for anything.”
Former cheerleader Nicole competed in national competitions at high school as well as coaching her college team and said she “absolutely loved it”.
She also swam competitively and says she was “completely healthy” in her early twenties.
But on June 28 2015, on the drive home from visiting her cousins she suddenly collapsed at a gas station after pulling over to buy snacks.
“I was just so lucky that I collapsed in a gas station that was right in front of a hospital in the middle of nowhere just as an ambulance was pulling in,” she said.
Doctors at Howard Young Medical Center in Minocqua, WI, gave Nicole antibiotics, fluid and inserted an impella heart pump before performing open heart surgery.
But she says they could find nothing physically wrong with the vital organ to explain why it was only functioning at 10 per cent.
They resorted to cutting her legs open to release pressure from swelling but she went into septic shock, and on the fifth day they amputated both limbs above the knee.
“From that point it was a medical miracle,” Nicole said. “After they amputated they checked my heart function and it had gone from 10 percent function to 40.”
Nicole’s sedation was withdrawn on day nine and incredibly she had suffered no brain damage, despite the lack of oxygen flow to her brain.
Three months later Nicole learned her ordeal was caused by an undetected genetic mutation called Catecholaminergic polymorphic ventricular tachycardia, or CPVT.
CPVT is a rare inherited heart rhythm disturbance which can cause fainting or sudden death if a sufferer goes into cardiac arrest.
Nicole now takes heart medication and has a defibrillator to control the condition, and plans to devote her life to helping other amputees.
She works with the Hangar Clinic which provides prosthetic care and as a mentor at Camp No Limits, supporting children with limb loss.
She said: “I’m going to be able to help other amputees for the rest of my life, which is incredible.”
Mary Leighton, founder of the No Limits Foundation, which organizes Camp No Limits events around the US, described Nicole as a “wonderful mentor”.
She added: “She had to relearn how to live life given her limb loss and heart condition but she did not let this hold her back.”
To donate to the No Limits Foundation visit: https://nolimitsfoundation.org/