‘Wake up!’ My daughter was slumped on the couch. There was a gurgling sound coming from her throat. She stopped breathing.’: Mom believes daughter died from ‘cardiac arrhythmia due to caffeine toxicity’ in energy drinks

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“December 17, 2011, was like any other Saturday. I got up around 8 a.m. to get my 11-year-old daughter Jade ready to spend the day with her father. When she left around 9 a.m., my 14-year-old twin son and daughter were still sleeping. Anais got up around 11 a.m. Her boyfriend was dropping by around noon to spend the day with her. As a high school freshman, this was her first ‘real’ boyfriend. He arrived with McDonald’s chicken nuggets and fries. They ate lunch and watched some TV. They asked if I could take them to the mall late that afternoon, so they could see a movie. At 4 p.m., Anais’s twin brother Dorian and I dropped Anais and her friend off at the mall. A little over an hour later, Anais asked if I could pick them up because the movie was not available. Unbeknownst to me, during this time, my daughter had purchased a 24 oz. energy drink from the candy store in the mall. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary that evening. Anais and her friend watched ‘1408’ in the family room while I watched a movie in the living room. Around 8pm, Anais’s friend ran down the stairs to tell me something was wrong with Anais. I asked, ‘What do you mean something is wrong with her?’ He said, ‘She just kind of leaned over and exhaled really loudly.’

I figured she just fell asleep. But her friend looked really concerned, so I ran up the stairs. I saw her slumped onto her side on the couch. I sat next to her, tapping her cheek, and calling out her name. ‘Anais, wake up. ANAIS, wake up!!!’ She gasped, and her eyes rolled back. There was a gurgling/gasping sound coming from her throat. At that second, I knew something serious was happening.

Teen stands smiling in dress for school dance
Courtesy of Wendy Kline

I immediately moved her to the floor and realized she stopped breathing. I started CPR while dialing 911. I told the dispatcher my daughter stopped breathing and I was preforming CPR, and begged him to send an ambulance. I was crying and yelling at Anais to hold on! I asked the dispatcher, again and again, if help was on its way. While it seemed like an eternity, EMS arrived about 10 minutes later. I explained to the EMTs that she gasped and lost consciousness, and I suspected an energy drink may have been the cause. There were at least 4 people working on her, and it took them 4 different shocks with the defibrillator to stabilize her.

While they worked on Anais, I questioned her friend about their activities while they were at the mall before this happened. I said, ‘Look, I need to know exactly what you two did today! I promise I will not be angry, I just need you to be honest!’ He swore they didn’t do anything bad except for buying an energy drink. I would never allow my children to have those drinks because I imagined they had a lot of unnecessary chemicals in them. When we arrived at our hospital, I asked if the energy drink could’ve caused this. The doctor said, ‘It could have, but we aren’t sure…’ After a few hours of getting her stabilized, we flew to Johns Hopkins Hospital. Over the next 2 days, I sat with my coma-induced daughter as she was packed with ice in order to bring her body temp down to 93 degrees. This enables the brain to rest after oxygen deprivation.

After 48 hours, they attempted to bring her out of sedation. But after her blood pressure spiked to an extremely high level and she exhibited seizure-like activity (post-hypoxic myoclonus), they put her back under sedation for another day. In the next couple of days, I watched as my daughter’s heart rate became more erratic, her left lung collapsed, and her seizure-like activity continued.

Intubated young woman lays in hospital bed in coma with stuffed animals at her side
Courtesy of Wendy Kline

This is when my research began. I was certain the energy drink was the cause of Anais’s cardiac arrest since she had not consumed anything else out of the norm. I interrogated her boyfriend about any drug or alcohol use and he assured me that none of those kind of activities had occurred (which her clean toxicology report confirmed). With my cell phone in hand, I began googling any articles I could find about the effects of energy drinks. Everything I found only cemented my theory. During that week, I discovered that these drinks were not regulated by the FDA, contained enormous amounts of caffeine, and were linked to other cardiac events. I then started researching some of the other ingredients, like Guarana, panax ginseng, taurine, etc. Guarana can contain up to almost 3 times the amount of caffeine that is in coffee beans. Energy drink labels showed an ‘energy blend’ amount, but did not break that down into caffeine content. Panax ginseng is used to improve thinking, memory, concentration, etc. Sounds like something good for your body, right? Well, panax ginseng interacts with caffeine, and should not be taken together. So, why is this in a highly caffeinated beverage, that is available to anyone perusing the aisles of a candy store?!

While at her bedside, the same question replayed in my head. ‘Why is my beautiful daughter laying in a hospital bed hooked up to a bunch of machines?!’ Anais was one of the kindest people I had ever met. She was born with empathy and compassion. When someone was being bullied, she intervened, even if it meant she would be the next target. When a new person at school sat alone in the cafeteria, she would invite them to sit with her. She had always been an honor student, and had just attended her first homecoming dance two months prior. Other than having strep throat a couple of times as a small child and the occasional cold, she was healthy. She had perfect attendance in school for years. I just couldn’t accept that this was happening to her.

Young girl lays on her side smiling as she holds fake dandelions for photoshoot
Courtesy of Wendy Kline
Teen smiles in selfie before she is rushed to the hospital
Courtesy of Wendy Kline

On December 22, during her morning examination, Anais’s nurse noticed a difference in her eyes. Her pupils were fixed and unreactive. They took Anais for a brain scan. About 2 hours later, JHU doctors took my ex-husband and I into a conference room where they proceeded to tell us that our lovely, kind, and intelligent daughter was brain dead. They explained that oxygen had been cut off from the entire brain during her arrest. Although her brain stem still functioned at first, by allowing her pupils to dilate, having a gag reflex, and controlling her temp and heart rate, it succumbed to the hypoxia. Anais’s father and I were devastated. We held hands (although we were not very fond of each other) and cried. After a few minutes, I wiped my tears, and asked, ‘Can we donate her organs?’ They told us we could.

Woman stans in home with arms around her teen son and daughter who are dressed from school dance
Courtesy of Wendy Kline

Protocol stated that an assessment must be done in 24 hours to confirm brain death. That night, the nurses moved Anais over to the side of her bed in order for me to fit next to her. My best friend sat next to her bed, and I laid next to her, all night. We talked to Anais the entire night without one wink of sleep. We talked about all the funny things she has said and done over the years. I told her how proud I was of her and how much happiness came from being her mom.

At 5:37 p.m. on December 23, Anais, who was always so full of life, was declared dead. She had never regained consciousness since the cardiac arrest. My world shattered that day. I didn’t know how I could ever live again.

Teen smiles in selfie before she went into cardiac arrest
Courtesy of Wendy Kline

Anais always wanted to help everyone, and on Christmas eve, she gave her last gift to this world. She donated her organs and saved the lives of two people, as well as giving the gift of sight to two individuals who were blind. On Christmas Day 2011, while everyone else was opening gifts with loved ones, Anais was having an autopsy. I advised the coroner of her activities the day before, and the day of her cardiac arrest. I believed, wholeheartedly, the energy drinks were to blame for her death. When the death certificate was filed, Anais’s cause of death was listed as ‘cardiac arrhythmia due to caffeine toxicity.’

The day after Christmas, I walked, numbly, into the funeral home. I don’t remember most of that day, other than the lovely white and pink casket I picked out. It had gold brackets with pink roses, and I had them embroider the inside lid with flowers and her name.

I asked the funeral home if I could do her eye makeup. She had a very distinctive way and I wanted it to be perfect. They told me that normal makeup usually didn’t work on the deceased, but I was welcome to try. I did her eye makeup perfectly, and painted her nails to match the favorite sweater she was being buried in. We said our final goodbyes on December 30, at 1 p.m.

When the death certificate arrived, I knew I needed to advocate on behalf of Anais and all others affected by these ‘beverages.’ First, I tried contacting those who were in the news stories I read. An 18-year-old man who was hospitalized after seizing from an energy drink, a mother of a 19-year old-man who died after consuming an energy drink, and a father of a 15-year-old boy who shared the same fate as Anais. Then, I started reaching out to Capitol Hill. Every week I drove to a different senator’s office in DC. The appointments were with the legislator’s staff member(s). They would listen to my story, accept my documentation, and tell me they’d pass on the information. Months went by before someone actually seemed to listen. A legislative aide to Senator Dick Durbin, of Illinois, said this is something that would interest him. He had led the effort to ban ephedra, a dietary supplement, that led to more than 150 deaths.

I was in constant contact with his office, and eventually, with the help of Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Ed Markey (D-MA) a congressional hearing was scheduled to evaluate the energy drink industry’s marketing to minors. In between the initial appointment with Senator Durbin’s office and the hearing, I had requested the adverse reaction reports for most of the major energy drink brands, via a FOIA request with the FDA. I contacted The NY Times and a reporter published the reported deaths. My phone rang off the hook for interviews, and my street was crowded with news vans. Anais’s story had been published in every major newspaper, within the US (except for Alaska). I was on the Today Show, Anderson Cooper’s talk show, CNNs the Lead w/Jake Tapper, and many others.

Woman stands beside senator who she wants to ban energy drinks
Courtesy of Wendy Kline

The congressional hearing was attended by the CEOs of Monster Energy, Red Bull, and Rockstar. The senators questioned each about their techniques to get minors to purchase their drinks, via sponsorship of sporting events, clothing lines, etc. Each CEO denied their intentions, even when faced with the proof.

Unfortunately, not much has changed over the years, due to the powerful lobbyists of the American Beverage Association. We tried to pass a state-wide bill banning the sales of energy drinks to minors in 2014, but the lobbyists won.This past Christmas marked 7 years since Anais died. Our lives have continued, but a huge piece of us is missing. For the past year and a half, I have taken a much-needed mental break from this fight. It is exhausting. But, it was what I was meant to do in my daughter’s honor. So, now, I’m re-entering the arena, and ready to fight again. If I can save one person’s life, or another family from going through the hell of losing a loved one, it will all be worth it.”

Mother stands beside her husband and two kids behind her third child's grave
Courtesy of Wendy Kline

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Wendy Kline of Hagerstown, Maryland. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here, and subscribe to our best stories in our free newsletter here.

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To read more stories about others who have died and suffered adverse effects, visit this Facebook group.

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