The Broad Street accident set in motion a series of events that ended up saving Albert Leva’s life, and that of his brother.
If Albert Leva hadn’t hit an undercover cop car on Broad Street almost two years ago, he might well be dead. The accident set in motion a series of events that ended up saving his life, and that of his brother.
Feeling lousy on a hot morning
It was the morning of July 5th, 2013, a very hot day. Leva was 24 at the time, a recent college grad, unsure what we wanted to do next. He was working a few jobs – his early morning gig was at Johnson and Harwick dining center at Temple University where he arrived around 6:30.
“I was production manager, in charge of ordering all of the food, make sure that stations were set up,” said Leva. But, he was not feeling well at all that day.
“I had little bit of a headache, it felt more like in the chest, like a chest cold. I knew I was sick, but didn’t know with what.”
Leva told his manager he needed to take a personal day. His dad, Albert Leva Sr. works at the cafeteria as well – and he noticed his son looked terrible, but he didn’t think much of it.
“I thought he was dehydrated, or had maybe a touch of the flu, so I gave him an alka seltzer, and I sent him on his way, thinking he had an upset stomach, dehydration, something common,” he said.
Albert Leva got into his car around 11 in the morning to drive home to Elkins Park, and all he could think about was how terrible he felt.
“At this point I was just ready to go home and go to sleep,” he recalled. “The whole ride I was just trying to keep my head up, and my eyes open, I felt somewhat awake.”
He started to fade in and out, contemplating if he should pull over or just get home. Then, at an intersection very close to Einstein hospital, it happened.
“Everybody stopped for the red light up there, I was trailing the other car by 30 feet, I faded, and I lost consciousness.”
And BOOM. He hit a car stopped at the red light, and the car was driven by undercover cops. Leva’s car crumpled, he was in a state of shock, unable to figure out what had just happened.
The cops he hit thought he was wasted.
“They were like, ‘what are you taking, what’s going on here, why are you driving into the back of my car,’ and I had no answers for them,” said Leva.
He said he was so confused that he really couldn’t tell the police officers how the accident had happened. The officers told Albert to call his mom, Anita Leva, a nurse at Einstein, so that she could get his car.
“I’m a night shift nurse, so I had just gotten home and gone to bed,” said Anita Leva. She tried to ask Albert a few questions, but he hung up.
A mother’s instincts
When she arrived at the accident site, she saw her son in the back of a police car, in handcuffs.
“He was sweating profusely, and he was really pale, even though he had a tan, and so I grabbed his wrist and his heart was beating out of his chest,” she recalled.
She kept asking her son what happened, but he said he couldn’t really remember, that he somehow passed out at the wheel of the car. She asked the officer why her son wasn’t at the emergency room. “He said ‘you can pick him up at 8th Street, maam’ I turned around and I said ‘what do you mean pick him up at 8th St. – what if he has a seizure, what if he has a heart attack, what if he goes into a coma, are you prepared for that?’ I got into the cop’s face.”
At her insistence, Albert was taken over to the hospital. ” I whispered in his ear, ‘is there any chance it’s a DUI?’ and he said ‘I had an Alka Seltzer this morning’ and I said no that won’t be it.”
Anita Leva’s mom instincts were crucial in saving Albert’s life. He arrived at the ER at Einstein – still in cuffs.
A medical mystery begins
ER doctor Anne Klimke had just arrived for her noon to midnight shift. “He was one of my very first patients, he was right over here in the hallway, handcuffed to a stretcher, in police custody.” At first, Klimke thought this would be a quick turnaround. “Medical clearance, and go to jail.”
But as she examined Albert, and reviewed his charts – things didn’t quite add up.
“The more I talked to him and the more perplexed he seemed about everything that occurred, it just didn’t fit together.”
Klimke admitted Albert to the hospital for more tests. He was still handcuffed, a police officer by his side. Over the course of the next few days, he got test after test for his heart.
Doctors noticed some abnormalities, but just couldn’t figure out what was going on. Eventually, they called in Sumeet Mainigi, who’s an expert on the pace of the heart beat.
“We sort of go around the hospital introducing ourselves as electricians or plumbers, that’s our field, the heart is an electrical organ, and it’s driven by the same type of electricity that you see in your walls,” he explained.
The thing that put Sumeet Mainigi on high alert was the way Albert’s accident happened. “It’s very unusual for a healthy young person to pass out behind the wheel while driving, that’s a big red flag,” he said.
He looked more closely at an ultrasound of Albert’s heart – which had already been ruled “normal” by other physicians
“And when we looked at it very carefully, there was a suggestion that his right lower chamber of his heart, the right ventricle, was a bit dilated, it was larger than it should be.”
Solving the puzzle
Now Albert needed another test – and for this one- doctors had to stop his heart. His mom Anita Leva was not happy about that. “Oh my god, you’re going to stop my kid’s heart? But it was to find out how easily this could happen.”
Mainigi explained that it’s a catheterization procedure of sorts. “We come up through a vein in the leg, stimulate the heart, and look for dangerous heart rhythms, and that’s when, that ultimately made the diagnosis.”
This test, conducted under the watchful eye of police officers, finally solved the mystery.
“The diagnosis is a condition called Arrhythmogenic Right Ventricular Dysplasia,” said Mainigi. “It’s a genetic condition that, over the course of somebody’s life, usually in their 20s, 30s, and 40s, areas of the heart muscle start to get replaced by fat and connective tissues, it can lead to life-threatening arrhythmias, irregular heartbeats that can cause a person to pass out, and ultimately to pass away,” he explained.
It is a very rare condition. And the thing is – just like in Albert’s case, there usually are no symptoms until it’s too late. “Sometimes the very first time you have an event is the last time you have an event, because the person passes away, said Mainigi.
This disorder that can kill young, fit athletes on the basketball court, in the middle of a game. It rips people from their lives without warning.
To prevent another incident, Sumeet Mainigi implanted a defibrillator into Albert’s chest, right under the shoulder.
“So we usually make a small incision of about two inches, just below the shoulder, and it lives in a pocket, right under the skin.
Sumeet Mainigi wasn’t done though. Since the condition can be genetic – he tested Albert’s entire family, and it turned out, his younger brother also needed the device. Two other siblings were fine.
With the defibrillator, the prognosis is quite good – even though they might need heart transplants at some point in the future.
And Sumeet Mainigi thinks that without that accident on Broad Street, Albert would have likely died that day.
What we think happened is that he went into a life-threatening arrhythmia and it caused him to lose consciousness, and it could have been something as simple as the jolt of the car and his chest against the steering wheel that knocked him out of that dangerous heart rhythm, and saved his life actually.”
Albert Leva says getting a new lease on life makes up for the fact that he had to get a lawyer, and spend about a thousand dollars to get his DUI charge dismissed.