0303-SFTH-Demetrious Talley_WP

Demetrious Talley was an athletic and fit 39-year-old when he noticed some strange bouts of feeling lightheaded. Mostly he ignored it, figuring that he just stood up too fast or needed to drink some water.

But it was clearly a warning sign of something more serious, as he learned one day in 2005 while riding his bike around the campus of California State University, Long Beach. He stopped pedaling and sat on the sidewalk to recover. Then he felt short of breath and passed out.

Luckily, his friend Rick Wood, who lived nearby, saw him collapse and immediately called 911. A campus security officer quickly arrived and used an automated external defibrillator to get Talley’s heart back into rhythm.

Talley was taken to a hospital where he learned he had suffered a cardiac arrest – meaning his heart suddenly stopped beating. Doctors inserted an implantable cardioverter defibrillator, or ICD, into his chest. The device that would automatically shock his heart back into rhythm if another episode ever happened again.

And it did happen again, just two weeks later. Talley was on the couch reading to his son Desmond, then 5, when he began to feel lightheaded. The ICD shocked him 11 times before getting his heart back into rhythm. He returned to the hospital, where he received a lead for a pacemaker. Two weeks later, while walking into a clothing store with Desmond, it happened yet again.

“The first time it happened, I thought it was just a fluke,” said Talley, who works as a loan officer. “After the second and third, I was scared to be alone with my son.”

Demetrious Talley in 2012 with his wife MaryAnne Griego-Talley and their son Desmond.

Demetrious Talley in 2012 with his wife MaryAnne Griego-Talley and their son Desmond. (Photo courtesy of Demetrious Talley)

Additional testing showed Talley had polymorphic tachycardia, an irregular heartbeat that caused his heart to flutter.

After months of soul-searching and grappling with severe anxiety, Talley reached acceptance about his condition, renewing his commitment to faith and the recognition that the ICD was in place if he did go into cardiac arrest again. He devoted himself to Bible study, even starting a men’s study group at his home. He also focused on meditation and breathing exercises to help alleviate anxiety.

“It took a lot of different things,” he said.

Desmond, meanwhile, had to adjust as well after having witnessed his father’s implantable defibrillator activate. Talley said he and his wife emphasized their trust in faith and that “God was in control.”

“The joke was that I was Superman because nothing could hurt me,” Talley said, adding that now that his son is older, there is vigorous athletic competition between the two.

Demetrious Talley with his family in 2016.

Demetrious Talley with his family in 2016. (Photo courtesy of Demetrious Talley)

Talley hasn’t had any more episodes in recent years, and his arrhythmia is under control thanks to a combination of medication and a pacemaker.

And, he’s working hard to help others understand heart disease and the importance of knowing CPR – which can double or triple a cardiac arrest victim’s chances of survival outside a hospital.

That message is also important at home. His wife, MaryAnne Griego-Talley, works for a municipal parks and recreation department and was already CPR trained. And the family keeps an AED in the home.

Talley helped start the first Long Beach Heart Walk in 2012, helping the American Heart Association’s fundraising event to raise more than $4,800 for heart and stroke research, education and programs. And he continues to walk to raise awareness and help others.

“Most people don’t realize how prevalent heart disease is,” Talley said. “Being part of the walk, it’s a way of really showing people how important being aware is.”

Talley, now 50, hopes his story helps others take their heart health seriously.

“Before this happened, if I heard about heart attacks or heart disease, I thought of someone who was gluttonous or slothful,” he said. “People associate heart disease with obesity and lack of health. When they hear my story, they can see that heart disease is really multi-faceted and can affect anyone.”