A Steady Heart

Supraventricular Tachycardia. Wolff Parkinson White Syndrome.

These are two things I never thought my doctor would tell me I have. But in March of 2017, I was told that this was something I was living with. And you may be asking, what is that? The simplest way to put it is that I was born with an extra electrical connection between the upper and lower chambers of my heart that caused it to beat two hundred times faster than normal, both while exercising and at rest.

It began when I was young. I used to describe the pain as a “sword being stabbed into my chest” when I told my mom about it. It went away for a little while, but came back in high school when I started playing club volleyball. Originally, it was thought that I had a type of asthma and I was given an inhaler. It was later realized that the inhaler was only making things worse for my condition. Over my 4 years in high school, the pain in my chest progressively got worse when my heart beat sped up. More often than not, I would have a panic attack as well, and I would black out when it was over. It always ended abruptly and I was completely fine after.

It was the middle of my senior year, and things still hadn’t gotten any better, but I’d been dealing with it for over three years at this point and had just learned to live with it. The day I found out about my condition, I went into my doctor for a physical, in which I talked to my doctor about the issues that I was having. As soon as I explained to him the things I was experiencing, he knew that I was having an issue called SVT, or Supraventricular Tachycardia. He told me to stop using my inhaler immediately because it was actually causing things to be worse. And then I was referred to a cardiologist.

At the cardiologist, I was hooked up to a million different machines and even had an ultrasound done on my heart. I didn’t know they did ultrasounds for that. After all of this, I was told that I had Wolff Parkinson White Syndrome, or WPW for short. If the condition was not corrected, it could (in the worst case scenario) cause death. I went to the cardiologist a few times before it was decided that I needed to have the ablation procedure to burn the connection away.

                                                                Photo Courtesy of Pixabay.com

My first surgery was scheduled for spring break my senior year of high school. But I got extremely sick that week and it had to be rescheduled. We couldn’t get another appointment until after I graduated, so one week after graduation, I was at UCLA Medical Center, ready to have heart surgery. Now, I know when most people hear "heart surgery," they think of when the doctors open up someone’s chest and operate. Mine was nothing like that. They used small catheters that went in through both of my thighs and my neck, that traveled through my veins to my heart. I did have to be under anesthesia, and this being my first time going under, I was terrified.

I woke up several hours later to the news that I now had to lay flat for a total of six hours after the surgery. Completely flat! I wasn’t able to do anything. It was the most boring six hours of my life. The nurses had kept checking the sights where the catheters went in and were slightly worried because I had worse bruising than most people after the surgery, but it ended up being okay.

When I was finally allowed to stand up after the six hours, my legs felt like Jell-O and it was hard to walk. After I came back from stretching my legs on a brief walk, my nurse sat me down and attempted to take out my IV. Emphasis on attempted. I hate needles, having needles in me, and when they have to be taken out of me. So while the nurse tried to take it out, I almost passed out. Three times. Finally, they got it out, but only because they gave me some Ginger Ale to settle my stomach. Otherwise, we would have been there a lot longer.

My recovery time included three days of bed rest for my heart to get better and then two weeks after that for the bruising to heal.  I went back to the cardiologist about a month later and was given the all clear. I no longer had WPW. I was so happy that I was never going to have to deal with that again. Still, to this day, I haven’t had any issues with my heart and I’m finally able to safely exercise. I still have “phantom heartbeats” in which it feels like my heart is going to beat too fast again, but it’s just a ghost feeling of what I used to have. Those will eventually disappear as well.

                                                                Photo Courtesy of Pixabay.com 

This Thanksgiving, I am most thankful to still be alive and to have had this procedure. It gave me the opportunity to live my life and have amazing experiences, meet new people, try new things, and travel to new places. So, I’m thankful to be able to sit here, write this article, and share my life-saving experience with you.