Three days ago I had a Cardiac Ablation or RFA (Radiofrequency Ablation) to rectify my heart’s short circuit. Basically, without getting too technical, an electrophysiologist conducted an Electrophysiology Study (EPS) to test my heart’s electrical system and how it works, and once he figured out the areas that weren't working, he destroyed (ablated) the "dead spots". It's called an "AV Node Ablation due to a Slow Pathway."
Turns out I had an unusual dual-pathway where the blood flowed and this is what was giving me problems when pumping blood to my heart. So one of the pathways was eliminated. The procedure was quite invasive. Four catheters were inserted into my blood vessels (veins) on both sides of my groin and moved along until they reached my heart. Radio frequency energy traveled through the catheters in order to “silence” the cells where the abnormal rhythm was coming from.
I remember laying on the operating table anxiously watching the numbers on the screen. The surgeon instructed the “heart pace” technician to elevate my heartbeat to 250 bpm into a state of tachycardia, and then slow it down to normal, and then up again to 300 bpm, and so on. This went on for two hours so you can imagine how uncomfortable it was.
Even though I knew I was in good hands, and in a controlled environment in the hospital, I had no control over what my heart was doing and felt very overwhelmed and constricted; not knowing if my heart would stop at any time. But the deal was that they had to emulate the irregular heart episodes I'd been having because they've been interrupting my normal way of life. And at 40, with two small kids, this wasn't ideal. So when they finally found the faulty circuits, an electrical surge was sent down the tubes -- and I felt the burning sensation (heat) as they burned the dead areas in my heart.
After it was all over, and I was back in my bed, I had a panic attack when two nurses were putting pressure on my incisions. They were pressing so hard on the four tubes to stop the bleeding that I instantly felt faint. They called two more nurses in to help and immediately dosed me with Gravol to calm me down. I remember the exact same symptoms when I had a panic attack a year ago in the cafeteria at work -- cold sweats, feeling sick, and not knowing whether to fight or flight the scene. Then I cried uncontrollably. The nurses at the Trillium Cardiac Health Centre were amazing and knew exactly how to get me through it. A half an hour later, I fell asleep.
After I woke up, the doctor came to speak to my husband and I about how the procedure was a success. Then I was allowed to get up and take a few steps. But when I did, a pool of blood gushed from the top of my right leg. The blood did not clot at one of my incisions and there was blood all over the hospital floor. The nurses rushed me back to the bed and applied more pressure in order to avoid losing too much blood. They said it could have been a result of me not going to the washroom and my full bladder was putting pressure on my groin. But finally, after more pressure, I was able to get up and go to the washroom (I couldn’t even force myself to go on the bed pan).
The next day, I was instructed to take it easy and move slowly. I had to hold my incisions every time I sat up or down or used the stairs, but I could have a shower and take the bandages off. I felt some periodic shooting pains in my chest and an aching pain in my groin where it was starting to bruise. I also felt a pressure on my left side that went through to my shoulder blade – similar to how I felt last January (2013) when I had my initial heart scare. (Read my full story in Chatelaine magazine.)
Today I am walking more, but still slowly, and feel much better. The doctor told me not to go back on my heart meds and wait to see how I feel at our next follow up appointment in 8 weeks. I am hopeful that my fast heart beat does not come back, and so far, it's looking good. I am so thankful for my family and friends who are here to help me.
I hope to (in some small way) help others who may have noticed some irregularities in their heartbeat, unusual shortness of breath, or panic attacks, and alert those who are under a lot of stress. Don't sit back and think it's nothing, because it could lead to further complications down the road. Believe me, if there's one thing I've learned from my heart journey over the past 13 months, it's to listen to my body. Please call your doctor today and be heart aware. Stay well.
Just over a year ago, after wearing a Mobile Cardiac Arrhythmia Diagnostic System (loop monitor) for two weeks, I was diagnosed with Paroxysmal Supraventricular Tachycardia (PSVT). The doctors had been doing a bunch of different tests on my heart at the time because my heart was not beating regularly, and I had a frightening health scare several weeks prior.
This explained the sudden rapid heartbeats that were causing my unusual shortness in breath, and why my heart often jumped from 70 bpm to 230 bpm in a matter of seconds. My heart would literally shift into overdrive without warning, and I felt like I was running a marathon even at rest. (And anyone around me could physically see my heart pumping through my clothes. Scary!)
Although I remember these episodes in high school, they were never as frequent as they had become in my late thirties. I am told they only get worse with age and my lifestyle most likely did not have anything to do with it because I am a non-smoker, eat healthy, and not overweight. It is a mechanical "short circuit" problem.
But surprising to some, I was actually relieved when I found out that I had PSVT because to treat this, cardiologists are able to locate and remove this alternate pathway and prevent this bypass from occurring. I was getting more and more out of breath going up and down stairs and this was very unusual for me, as I was only 39 at the time. Needless to say, I had to get to the bottom of my condition and figure out next steps so I could feel normal again...
What I've learned:
PSVT means there is a short circuit in the heart that bypasses the desired pathway to make blood flow occur normally, which enables the heart to beat excessively fast. Since PSVT results in a significant increase in heart rate beyond what the heart is really designed to do, frequent and prolonged attacks can also cause damage to the heart muscle. In a typical heart attack, there isn't enough blood flow to the heart (supply) due to blockage of the arteries; but in the PSVT heart attack scenario, there is excess demand due to the rapid heart rate, and the body can't supply enough blood flow to meet it. Depending on the amount of damage, this could lead to poor functioning of the heart and eventually heart failure.
Stay tuned for more on my heart journey,
Kerrie Lee Brown is a sought-after health and lifestyle expert. She writes books, blogs and articles and is published all over the world. Kerrie Lee is also a heart-health survivor and has appeared on numerous radio and television shows sharing life-saving tips for women on how to listen to their bodies and slow down. Kerrie Lee is a mom and proud Canadian living in Denver, Colorado.