My Heart Wept for Years, But My Soul Stayed Strong — Never Give Up
As a teenager I was in the best shape of my life. I played soccer and could run for long periods of time. Well, most of the time. There would be a random day where I would be in the top five after the first mile of our run and come in dead last for the second mile. Or I would climb a flight of stairs to get to my next class and have to sit down so I didn't pass out. At that age they diagnosed me with exercise-induced bronchospasm, also known as exercise-induced asthma. I was given an inhaler for when the issue arose.
Turns out, that wasn't the issue at all.
After college, I would often have this sensation of my heart pounding out of my chest when get out of the shower. I eventually discovered that bending down and standing back up when I was in a warm situation was a trigger for this sensation.
Many doctors later, I was finally diagnosed with Supraventricular tachycardia (SVT). In other words, my heart would beat rapidly, out of rhythm. In 2009, I had my first electrophysiology study (EPS) – testing and evaluating my heart’s electrical system to find an arrhythmia resulting in a cardiac ablation. There were a few spots they were able to identify, but due to risk level and what I had consented to, the surgery was stopped after 3.5 hours.
After multiple, lengthy discussions it was determined that they would need to cross the barrier to the other side of my heart to successfully ablate the spot in question. In 2010, I underwent a 6-hour surgery. The recovery was fairly easy, and I was back to normal, or so I thought.
That's the thing about arrhythmias, you never know when they could come back and in a new form. In 2013 it came back.
Medication helped but didn't fully fix the issue. I was also now showing signs of ventricular tachycardia, which led to the lower chambers of my heart beating very quickly causing me to go to the hospital one night − knowing I was in V-tach. The doctor turned pale and didn't believe me. After hovering over the EKG machine, he looked at me and said, "You're right. Let's get you some meds."
This would be the second time in my life they were going to try and convert me back to regular rhythm via medication. The first time was with Adenosine. This time they were going to use Lidocaine and then leave me on a drip. Both instances of being on the medication were the most awful of my life − it’s a feeling you can't describe. Every emotion and sensation occurred all at once. As a result, I ended up in cardiac ICU that night − giving everyone a bit of a scare.
After that, my electrophysiologist, (EP) cardiologist – a cardiovascular subspecialist focused on testing and treating arrhythmias − determined another ablation was the route to go.
By 2014, I had my third surgery lasting 8 hours. In recovery I got the news I didn't want to hear. While they were able to correct the potentially life threatening, issue, they could not fix my SVT.
I remember my dad being the one that had to tell me because my mom needed to just sit there and cry with me. I was devastated. The technology at the time would not allow for a safe ablation. We determined at that time to put me on daily medications and to see what technology could bring over the next 5 years.
. . .During those 5 years, I had ups and downs.
There would be days where I would have an episode of my heart racing over 150 beats per minute (bpm) and need to sleep most of the next day. Exercise was minimal due to the fear of having an episode and not being able to get home. I was able to walk short distances, but never too far from where my safe place was located.
It controlled my life.
One day in mid-2019, I was bartending at the local American Legion and had a horrible episode. The members were great − helping me close so I could go home to rest.
Unfortunately, that's when the episode frequency increased. I could turn my head and trigger my heart out of rhythm. In of the fall of 2019 they changed my medication requiring yet another stay in the hospital. The medication ultimately didn't work very well, but it got me to December and on the schedule for another ablation. The technology had vastly improved and my doctor was confident in getting it fixed.
That surgery, more than 8 hours, did not actually fix the issue, however. I knew within a few moments of waking up that it was worse, and while I know this was not through any fault of my doctor’s and rather just the circumstance of my unique case, It was still an incredibly challenging and frustrating rime. He came in and sat with me for a while the next day to discuss options including the Mayo Clinic, which I considered to be my ‘Hail Mary.’
I was so tired of this controlling my life.
In January, following the surgery, I received a phone call from one of the best doctors in the world. He was not able to get me in until mid-summer, but due to the emergent status of my case, he was willing to defer me to a colleague as well as consult on my case.
I cried the happiest tears of my life.
My mother flew up to Minnesota with me late that month and we ultimately were there for more than a week. By early February, I was in surgery for twelve and a half hours. I awoke to the worst pain I had experienced to date with these surgeries. My care team took me to the ICU and informed me that I had developed blood clots in my lungs, but that they couldn't give me heavier pain killers without compromising my health. My mother fed me what must’ve been at least 100 cups of ice chips that night just to keep my mind off the pain. Recovery from this surgery was awful. I had complications and even developed a hospital contracted UTI, which is incredibly difficult to treat.
None of this mattered though.
They told me they truly believed they had corrected the problem using technology that wasn't available previously at smaller hospitals. I was in the absolute best hands and the providers at the Mayo Clinic understood how incredibly unique my situation was.
My Hail Mary worked!
And by August, I was finally off my medications — realizing that I had been given a second chance at life.
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