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Pregnant teen dies after shoveling snow

The 18-year-old from Pennsylvania suffered from several heart defects, including Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome

By Sam Wood
The Philadelphia Inquirer

PHILADELPHIA — A pregnant teenager died Saturday morning of a suspected heart attack after shoveling snow at her Pottstown, Pa., home.

Briahna Gerloff, 18, was eight months pregnant and suffered from several heart defects, according to Pottstown police. Gerloff’s soon-to-be born daughter, Kayliana, also died.

Gerloff’s younger brother, Stosh, found Gerloff unresponsive in her kitchen shortly after 9 a.m. and called 911. She could not be revived.

The cause of death has not been determined, police said.

Gerloff’s family members said the teen had been diagnosed with Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome (WPW), a rare heart condition that affects about 1 in 500 people, Supple said.

Those with WPW have an abnormal nerve connection that runs from the top to the bottom of the heart. It allows an electrical pulse to traverse the heart faster than normal.

“It’s uncommon for it to be fatal,” said Greg Supple, an assistant professor of cardiovascular medicine at Penn Medicine. “But WPW can put a patient at risk for ventricular fibrillation,” more commonly known as an abnormally rapid irregular heart rhythm.

Gerloff’s friend, Ava Cruz, knew Gerloff suffered from a heart ailment but she never let it slow her down.

Cruz said she spoke to Gerloff the night before she died.

“She was excited to be a mom,” Cruz said in an interview Monday. “She told me she had scheduled her C-section for Feb. 4.”

Cruz said Gerloff’s brother had warned her to stop shoveling.

“When she wanted to do something she was determined,” said Cruz, her friend of nine years. “She would get it done.”

Cruz has set up a GoFundMe account to help pay for funeral expenses. A candlelight vigil for Briahna and Kayliana is scheduled for Saturday.

An Associated Press tally counted at least 31 deaths nationally from the massive storm. In North Jersey, a 23-year-old woman and her 1-year-old son died from carbon monoxide poisoning when they sat in a car to keep warm while the young woman’s husband tried to dig it out of the snow.

“What they didn’t foresee was the snow covered the exhaust system, so the fumes had nowhere to go but inside the car,” Passaic Mayor Alex Blanco said, according to The Record. “With carbon monoxide, you can’t smell it and can’t see it, so they just fell asleep. The husband noticed they were unconscious inside, knocked on the window and then called 911 right away.”

A 56-year-old Berks County man also died of carbon monoxide poisoning, apparently after his car was covered by a passing plow in Muhlenberg.

David Perrotto “had gotten in the car and started it,” one neighbor, Felix Gonzalez, told the Reading Eagle. “We thought he got back out.”

Also in Pennsylvania, a Dauphin County man died when suffered an apparent heart attack while shoveling snow, according to ABC27 in Harrisburg.

And in Delaware, Vernon Alston, a U.S. Capitol Police officer, died while shoveling snow at his Magnolia home, officials said.

Philadelphia hospitals reported fewer than the usual number of visits to their emergency rooms over the weekend.

“We did not see anything out of the ordinary volume-wise related to the snow,” said Jennifer Lee, spokeswoman for Temple University Health.

At the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, visits to the emergency department on Saturday were down more than 60 percent, said Lee-Ann Donegan, spokeswoman for the University of Pennsylvania Health System.

“Sunday was light as well,” said Donegan. “We saw 100 patients; a normal Sunday is about 150.”

Supple said the number of heart attacks usually rises “a little bit” in the wake of a blizzard.

“It’s probably associated both with shoveling stress and the emotional stress that comes along with it as well,” the physician said. “It’s similar to the small blip (in heart attacks) we see after the time change for daylight savings.”

Einstein Healthcare spokeswoman Kerry Ross O’Connor said that system also had a light weekend, though storm-related patients did include a person with chest pains and someone who broke a hip after slipping on water in the house after coming in from the snow.

But Jack Kelly, chairman of emergency medicine at Einstein, said that given that there still was significant sidewalk and street clearing to be done, there could still be an uptick in people with heart or orthopedic issues. He also was concerned about the potential for pedestrians walking in the streets in order to avoid piled-up snow to be hit by cars.

(c)2016 The Philadelphia Inquirer

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