Mumbai: 16-year-old collapses due to heart attack, lives to tell the tale

Updated: Nov 24, 2014, 09:35 IST | Vinod Kumar Menon |

Chewing tobacco, smoking since age 11 wreaked havoc on Ashok Kumar's health, causing him to fall unconscious outside public toilet; he is one of the youngest cases of cardiac arrest in the city

Heart attack is for old people, or so goes the general consensus. But a teenager in the city may as well be the youngest ever person to have had a heart attack, owing to his habit of chewing tobacco and smoking beedis since the age of 11. Luckily, he survived. On November 20, Ashok Kumar (16) went to a public toilet in Ghatkopar (East) to answer nature’s call.

Ashok is currently recovering in the ICCU of Rajawadi Hospital. This picture has been taken with the permission of the patient and the doctor. Pics/Suresh KK
Ashok is currently recovering in the ICCU of Rajawadi Hospital. This picture has been taken with the permission of the patient and the doctor. Pics/Suresh KK

As he came out, he started sweating profusely and collapsed to the ground in full view of everybody. Instead of taking him to the hospital, people there asked for a relative’s contact number to make a phone call. In acute pain, Ashok produced his diary and the emergency was conveyed to a relative, who came to his rescue and took him to Rajawadi Hospital.

Ashok’s family says they will ask him to return to their village, so that he doesn’t revert to his smoking ways. The picture has been taken with the permission of Ashok and the doctor
Ashok’s family says they will ask him to return to their village, so that he doesn’t revert to his smoking ways. The picture has been taken with the permission of Ashok and the doctor

Veteran smoker
Dr Sachin Payannavar, ICCU medical officer at Rajawadi Hospital, said, “The boy was brought in with complaints of chest pain, perspiration and pain radiating to the left upper limb (see box). An ECG revealed that he was having an acute myocardial infarction (the medical term for an event commonly known as a heart attack).

He was immediately put on life-saving drugs and his ECG was monitored, thereafter, continuously. By evening, his ECG reports showed signs of improvement.” “We get an average of 30-40 cases of heart attacks a month in elderly patients at our hospital, but this was the first case involving a juvenile,” explained Dr Payannavar.

Ashok has been chewing tobacco, and puffing beedis and cigarettes since he was 11. A resident of Basti district in Uttar Pradesh, he had come to Mumbai to earn a living. He told doctors that he was addicted to tobacco, and sometimes even smoked ganja. He also drank occasionally. A dropout of Std V, he started loitering with his friends in his village and began by smoking one cigarette or beedi a day, which went up to 6-7 daily. He then graduated to ganja and alcohol.

Ashok told mid-day, “All I remember is that the chest pain was unbearable and I thought I wouldn’t survive. My relative put me in an ambulance, and when I opened my eyes I was in the hospital. I am feeling better now and want to go to my parents.” Dr Payannavar added, “Since the boy was addicted to such intoxicants for the last five years, he was already in the high-risk bracket of cardiovascular diseases.

He was lucky to survive a major heart attack, and any delay could have been fatal. We have advised him to quit his addictions immediately, or else he could endanger his life. We will require an angiography, for which he will be referred to Sion or KEM soon, where we may need financial assistance from an NGO for treatment.”

Dr Anil Chopde, deputy medical superintendent at the hospital, stated, “In the 27 years of my career, this is the first case where a young boy of 16 years has been brought in with a heart attack. One of the factors is tobacco addiction at an early age.” Ashok started working at the age of 14 with his fellow villagers in different parts of the country, doing odd jobs like masonry and carpentry.

In August 2014, he was in Hyderabad working in an apartment, when he fell unconscious and was admitted to a hospital. Doctors had then advised him to keep away from smoking and his addictions, but he ignored them. Ashok has been staying away from his family, who have no idea of his addictions. His father, Ram Nayan (55), said, “Nobody in our family has heart-related ailments.

Ashok is the eldest of four children and is a school dropout. He has never smoked in our presence, but we are not aware of what he does outside the house.” Ram Nayan himself is a smoker, and confessed to
puffing 6-7 beedis a day and drinking occasionally. A fisherman by profession, Ram Nayan is the sole breadwinner for his family, earning Rs 100 to Rs 150 a day.

Ashok was working in Ulhasnagar, for Rs 250 per day. “Ashok, in the last five months, has only sent home a money order of Rs 2,000. We received it just two days before we learnt about his hospitalisation,” his father recalled. However, Ram Nayan refuses to come to Mumbai, citing financial strain.

But, once his son recovers he will be ordered to come home, where he would be under strict vigil to ensure he doesn’t smoke or drink again. “He will help me in my regular work. I won’t send him to Mumbai again,” Ram Nayan stated.

Attacking the young

Cases of heart attacks among teenagers have been seen around the world.

>> A 13-year-old boy from Lukut, Malaysia, collapsed and died at his tuition centre in June 2008, reported Sin Chew Daily. The deceased, Zhen Siong, was nearly six feet tall. He had complained of chest pain at a camping trip earlier, but the family never suspected it to be serious.

>> In October 2012, an Indian teenager living in Abu Dhabi, Nazneen Nasser, died of a heart attack after a party at a relative’s place, ironically on the eve of World Heart Day, Emirates 24/7 reported. The 17-year-old’s parents said she never had any serious problems.

>> In UK, a girl of 13 died due to heart attack after suffering severe mosquito bites on a holiday. She collapsed to the ground eleven days after returning. Medical reports later revealed she had had an attack that went undetected earlier.

Expert speak

Dr Prafulla Kerkar
Professor and HOD Cardiology dept, KEM Hospital
I have seen lifestyle diseases like diabetes and hypertension in 16-year-olds, but this is the first case of heart attack I’ve heard of. This particular case will need to be evaluated from all possible angles, including any lipid disorders. One may understand that any sort of tobacco addiction is dangerous and could lead to cardiovascular problems.

Dr Robin Pinto
Senior cardiologist
Unlike traditional blockages in the heart due to age, this is a very rare case and is possible in case of smoking and cocaine addiction, which leads to spasm of the arteries without underlying blockages. The boy will have to undergo an angiography and will have to be monitored closely. He will have to give up his addiction and be on medication for life.

Dr K Venugopal
President, Cardiology Society of India
“Unless there are genetic abnormalities which manifest a problem in coronary arteries in the first two decades of birth, cases of heart attacks, otherwise, in children are rare. In this case, the patient probably might have some cholesterol metabolism issue and his addiction aggravated the problem, leading to a higher risk of getting a heart attack.

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