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A fixed heart brings renewed energy to my life

2 August 2012 No Comment

Only a few days in one’s life are an obvious turning point, a defining and deeply impactful experience that you know will lead you down a new path.

When these experiences strike, you certainly hope that particular day is a fresh start rather than a dissent into a dark direction which you may not be able to escape.

Thanks to the fantastic doctors, nurses and staff at Missouri Baptist Arrhythmia Center, I’m quite confident that I will be soon returning to a normal life after going through a corrective heart procedure this past Monday.

I will no longer be living in perpetual fear and can once again enjoy the activities that have always defined the person I am. And this news is incredibly uplifting for me and my family, and much needed after everything we have been through in these recent pain-filled months.

Time to get this show back on the road, man!

Though my life was not in serious peril, the past few years have been extremely challenging for me as my heart arrhythmia grew increasingly more severe. The specific condition is called SVT (Supraventricular tachycardia). I have known something was not right since late in college, but the issue became a day-to-day battle in recent years.

My heart’s electrical system was not wired correctly, and an extra pathway would create erratic heartbeat episodes that would last anywhere from 30 seconds to 10 hours. Not only is it scary and very draining, but as these episodes increased it naturally caused me to try to avoid certain circumstances.

I feel that I managed this whole crap pretty well, and I’ve not exactly been living like a total hermit, which actually is not an entirely odd tendency for me anyway. But I definitely found myself avoiding social situations, invitations to play basketball, live indoor concerts, camping and music festivals and, really, any environment where I was not confident that I could escape and be alone should I have heart palpitations.

Why are palps so bad even though you know your life is not in jeopardy? Because it feels like your heart is trying to leap out of your chest. It’s just crazy, like a freight train is inside you. You can’t take deep breaths, can’t relax, your entire upper body is shaking and all you can do is try to stay calm until it passes. It pretty much sucks! Especially since since I don’t use Xanax ever. At its worst, it is a struggle to not pass out. That’s frightening when you are driving, terrifying when you have a baby in the car. I mean, that is some serious frickin’ panic.

Ask a buddy or family member who has complained about anything similar, and these are the descriptions you will hear.

Prior to my heart procedure, I did not mention these problems to many folks, and even when I did I could tell they really did not understand. In hindsight, I should have been more forthcoming when it impacted my job. When I worked for Patch.com as a Sports Editor, I was really late to a few staff meetings because I was just trying to catch my breath after parking at the meeting site. But it just looked like I had overslept to my co-workers. Damn that …

For Patch, I had to do on-site halftime interviews during high school football games, conduct staff meetings and handle all-day phone calls, etc. and much of that time was dealing with those damn erratic heartbeats. Though I suppose trying to explain would have looked as if I wanted sympathy and/or was being weak. (To be honest, many Patch employees have suddenly developed health problems!)

I used to play ping pong one night a week with a great group of friends, and I did open up to them as needed because there were times I had to sit out or catch my breath. And that was my one night a week to be around other people and I did not want to miss out, though with my new job I had to give it up anyway.

So, I decided to get this properly diagnosed in 2011, but it did not lead to a solution; only confirmed that my heart was structurally sound enough to not present a threat to my life. I followed up with my awesome new doctor a few months ago, and learned about the specialists at Missouri Baptist. They had me wear a heart monitor and sent me home. After 24 hours and two significant heart events, they said I had SVT and was a good candidate to undergo a catheter ablation.

The other alternative is open-heart surgery, and my condition probably would not have warranted going to that extreme.

An ablation is where “catheters (thin, flexible wires) are inserted through a vessel in each groin and threaded to the heart using X-rays to guide its course. The cause of the arrhythmia is then determined, and radio frequency waves are applied to the abnormal area to destroy the arrhythmia.”

What they do is stop the extra electrical pathway by creating scar tissue to block it. They basically zap your heart via an electrode with heat.

Cool! I set up an appointment, and went to the hospital at 6am last Monday. I only slept for 3.5 hours the night before, so I was in for one long, scary and foggy day. I was prepped and ready by 830. It seemed to take a long time for me to go to ‘sleep’ from the various forms of anesthesia (tough dude to knock out), but once it hit me I don’t remember anything for four hours.

I did wake up once when they were using adrenaline to induce an SVT episode for diagnostic purposes, but I was knocked back out quickly. I came to around 1230 as the procedure lasted 4 hours.

They located the source of the problem quickly once an episode was induced. The exact condition is SVT with AVRT, a concealed accessory pathway on my heart’s left side.

The doc told me after they perform an ablation that they wait for 30 minutes to see if it reoccurs. I had another episode after 28 minutes! My heart just healed quickly, I guess. So, that was actually very beneficial as it led to a second ablation. After 40 minutes, no more problems. Without the recurrence, I guess I would have had to go through the whole thing again.

I spent five hours in recovery, and just relaxed. I think I even watched an episode of Rosanne in between viewing strange Olympic events. The pain in my back was worse than the pain was in each of my groin areas where they had inserted (and removed) the catheters. Ouchers!!! My back was messed up from lying still for so long, I guess.

I was discharged around 5pm, thankful I would not have to spend the night. I felt ok getting home, but really sore and dizzy. I could not keep my train of thought very well at all! Morphine kind of does that … good stuff though!

I layed down for a nap around 10pm, but ended up sleeping off and on for the next 14 hours. I woke up in a fog, and ached all over. But I suppose that’s expected.

I’m feeling normal now, though I’m still always expecting arrhythmias just out of habit. This should pass soon, and the success rate of this heart procedure is over 90%.

Once I completely put the fear behind me, I can’t wait to start going out again, hiking (Castlewood, baby!), playing basketball, going to concerts and festivals and being my “young” self again! Maybe I’ll start my own rock band, and try out for the NBA. Hey, I’m still in my 30s (barely) and should be consumed by life and family, not so much serious health issues. I plan to put that off for a long time as I’m only halfway done with my life.

As Bob Marley once sang … “Everything’s gonna be all right.”

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