I debated about writing this post. There are no photos. No recipe. It’s just me and my words. But I felt that I needed to share this with you. After all, the American Heart Association’s American Heart Month just passed and while I’m a little late to the party, this is my story about my heart. This isn’t something I’ve shared with many people but I hope you read on.
For the better part of the past four weeks, I have been struggling to breathe every day. It’s the reason why you didn’t hear much from me here in February. I when I say, breathe, I mean it in the literal sense. Everything I did caused me to be short of breath, tired. To feel beaten.
Six weeks ago, my heart started racing and thumping to an irregular beat. It came and went. I went to work, sat through meetings, ran meetings, edited documents, created policies and procedures, pushed my project along. I came home, fixed dinner (barely), laughed through endless episodes of The Office, watching Kyle experience Dwight K. Schrute for the first time, and crashed in bed each night, my heart still thumping. And for 10 days, I willed these feelings to go away.
I hear so much about heart disease in young women every day. I work in a university-based cardiovascular outcomes research center; heart disease is part of my job. I work with cardiologists on a daily basis. And yet, I couldn’t possibly face becoming a number, not at 36 years old. I pushed off going to the doctor. I knew I wasn’t having heart attack symptoms, but I knew something was definitely wrong. The symptoms I was having were similar to the ones that landed me in the hospital 15 years ago with a condition called supraventricular tachycardia (SVT). The SVT was righted with a procedure called radiofrequency ablation and I’ve never had a symptom since. But the symptoms were also different from what I remember from years ago. After waking up on Feb 3rd, I felt an overall weakness wash over me and felt slightly lightheaded and nauseous, all with the ever-present racing and skipping heartbeat. After 10 days of feeling the irregular heartbeat, the weakness, nausea, and lightheaded feelings were new, and I knew it was time to see my doctor.
I ate breakfast that morning and after feeling slightly better, I drove to work – probably not the smartest move in hindsight – tied up a few loose ends, and went to the urgent care center of my doctor’s office. They hooked me up to an EKG, took no chances, and called an ambulance to transport me to the hospital across town. After constant monitoring of my heart overnight, it was determined I had two conditions called idiopathic (or of unknown cause) ventricular tachycardia (VT) (or a fast heartbeat originating in the ventricles – a type of arrhythmia) with premature ventricular contractions (PVCs) (or early heartbeats). Both of these conditions were occurring together on a very regular basis, which, little did I know, was actually very serious.
This was definitely different from the SVT I had years ago. If left untreated, VT will damage a healthy heart. I had no risk factors for this condition and no risks factors for the SVT for that matter, either, and all of the blood tests and those of my heart functions completed while in the hospital came back perfect – I have a structurally sound and healthy heart. Weight and cholesterol are not contributing factors to VT or PVCs. Excessive amounts of stress, anxiety, and caffeine can play a strong role but I don’t fit in any of those categories. The combination of the two conditions was being described as a rare…and that frightened me.
After 2 ½ days of tests and monitoring, I was sent home on a medication that was supposed to help regulate my heartbeat.
Except it didn’t. I actually felt worse after leaving the hospital – still feeling the arrhythmia but adding in shortness of breath with any type of exertion. Walking to the bathroom made me winded. Whisking an egg made me winded. Walking up the stairs at night to go to bed forced me to lay down just to catch my breath. It was bad and my stress level was rising because this wasn’t something I could control and I felt horrible nearly all the time.
At my one-week follow-up with my cardiologist (who yes, happens to work with the group I work with), I was fitted with a Holter monitor that would record my heart rhythm for a 24-hour period. After the results of the Holter came back, it was determined that even on a medication, 36% of my heartbeats in a 24-hour period were irregular and I would need a cardiac ablation to fix what was happening.
So…I went in for the ablation this past Thursday. What was slated to be a 4-6 hour procedure turned into a 7 hour procedure, first under “twilight” anesthesia (conscious sedation) then general anesthesia, as there were additional malfunctioning electrical pathways causing the issues that needed to be fixed. I’m happy to say though, that the procedure was a success! Overnight heart monitoring showed absolutely zero signs of VT or PVCs and I was released from the hospital Friday morning.
Today, I feel like I was hit by a truck (my muscles are sooo sore) but I can breath again. I have no feelings of irregular heartbeats and it’s hard to explain how amazing it feels to move around without feeling winded all the time. I’ll be taking it easy in the next couple of weeks but then I’ll be able to resume more vigorous activities, like working out. I’ll be monitored regularly by my cardiologist, likely for the remainder of my life, but the outlook is really good. And if the issues return, the mapping of my heart completed during the ablation last week will provide a solid foundation for potential future ablations.
With all of this said, I realize my condition doesn’t fit into the mold of “heart disease” that the American Heart Association is raising awareness about. But in the same vain, it is so, so important to listen to your body. To be empowered to ask for help. To not be afraid of being counted as a number but rather to be fearless in wanting to live. Please, just listen to your heart – it’s the only one you’ll likely ever have.