A-Fib Patient Story #56
A-Fib Started at Age 23!—Ablation by Dr. Eric Good at Un. of Michigan
by Chris, 2011
Starting at the age of 23, I began experiencing sensations of a sudden racing and skipping of my heart beat lasting only a few minutes with each episode. Often times these would occur when drinking or being in smoke-filled environments which is what I had attributed these episodes to. Twice I had experienced these symptoms and visited the ER, only to have any and all tests come back “normal.”
Fast forward two years later. It was roughly 3AM on July 4th, 2008. While talking to a family member I started having an A-Fib episode. This time it wasn’t just the racing and skipping, it was worse—a pounding heart beat easily felt by my hand on my chest. When it didn’t subside after 2 minutes, I urged that family member to call 911. I was certain that I was having a heart attack and even told that family member to tell my wife and kid I loved them, if something should happen to me.
Paramedics Say It’s A-Fib—Treated in the ER
The ambulance arrived, and I was immediately hooked up to an EKG while laying on the stretcher in the back. After a few seconds, the medic looked at the driver and said “A-Fib.” On the way to the hospital I was informed what A-Fib was in a nutshell. This was just the start of learning about my condition that I now had a name for. Once at the hospital they initially worked to decrease my heart rate, which was over 180 bpm. Once this was somewhat achieved, I was put into a room. 10 hours after the A-Fib started, they attempted to convert me to sinus rhythm using drugs in my IV. When this didn’t work, they were preparing to use Electrocardioversion (the paddles) to shock my heart into normal rhythm. Before doing this, they used ultrasound to check for blood clots in my atria and for any valve issues that can cause A-Fib, none of which were found. I was set for the “paddles” and told what would occur. But at 5pm, 14 hours after the episode began, I converted back to sinus rhythm—a huge relief.
Trying to Live with A-Fib—Anxiety, Depression, Quality of Life
I was prescribed metoprolol and went home the next day with a follow up stress test to rule out other cardiovascular issues. The stress test indicated the issue was purely electrical, and my cardiologist recommended continuing my metoprolol and taking one 325 mg aspirin per day. Over the next year and a half I was still having some episodes, but learning to live with them. However, I was becoming more and more anxious about my episodes occurring at inopportune times and feeling depressed about how it was affecting my quality of life. I brought these up to my cardiologist and talked to him about different procedures that could cure me of A-Fib, and each visit he told me to just keep taking my meds and visit the ER if I had prolonged episodes.
Going for a Cure and a Second Opinion (Hope!)
Finally, I had had enough with the anxiety and depression and had a talk with my wife about the need to find another opinion. She found a Doctor of Electrophysiology at the University of Michigan whose name was Dr. Eric Good. He gave me the hope I needed. I spent the end of 2009 and most of 2010 going to quarterly appointments to see Dr. Good. I wore various portable heart monitors (Holter monitors), tried different meds (flecainide and anti-anxiety meds), and we learned more and more about where my A-Fib was originating.
My “catheter ablation” was scheduled for December 15th, 2010. The month or so before that procedure, I began taking a blood thinner, getting tested twice a week. This was so that I would not develop clots post-op. I also went in shortly before the procedure to get an in-depth scan of my heart to create a “roadmap” so they could navigate properly for the ablation.
I went to the U of M hospital on the morning of the procedure and was prepped for the procedure. I was given a brief explanation, introduced to the anesthesiologist, shaved, and after saying goodbye to my family I was wheeled back to the room where the procedure would take place. After an IV was started, I was given a warm towel under my neck and immediately felt incredibly comfortable and went under.
I awoke around 7 or 8 hours later, not completely coherent. The nurses talked about the discomfort I would feel when the sheaths were removed from my groin, where the catheters had been inserted to reach my heart. The sheaths were removed, and another nurse immediately applied pressure to my groin for quite some time until he was comfortable that I would not have any major bleeding. After this I was to lay on my back for the next couple of hours. Two things went through my mind:
1. I didn’t have to urinate after all that time which must be because a catheter was inserted.
2. I had a heavy feeling in my lungs when I breathed in deeply making me cough due to a condition called Pericarditis, an inflammation of the sac surrounding the heart, typical after this kind of procedure.
During the course of the night, and in the early morning I was continually visited, had the catheter removed (not pleasant) and was able to walk around a little. After walking I “sprung a leak” and began bleeding from my right groin, which was stopped with more pressure from a nurse. As everything progressed as expected, I was set to be released in the afternoon. And despite some minor bleeding, I was released at 4pm.
After the Ablation
The next 90 days, I still experienced episodes of A-Fib, which is completely normal. The purpose of the procedure is to create scar tissue on the heart to inhibit errant electrical signals that cause A-Fib, and that would take time. I also continued taking my blood thinners and metoprolol for the 90 + days and followed up with the doctor after 90 days. I am happy to report that I have not had an episode since March of 2011, and that I am extremely happy and relieved.
After wearing a heart monitor for 30 days to check for any irregularities caused by the procedure, I was informed there were no irregularities, and I was taken off of my meds. Now, over a year after my procedure I am still free of major A-Fib episodes.
I will never forget the anxiety and worrying that comes with A-Fib, but I am now in a much better place being free of these episodes.
Lessons Learned & Heartfelt Advice
A-Fib has been a life changing experience for me, and it impacted not only me but everyone close to me too. The anxiety and the worrying can be debilitating, and many times I felt that I was alone in this. For those that have A-Fib, you are not alone!
I encourage you to be honest with your loved ones about how you feel living with A-Fib, and I also encourage you to reach out to the various support groups that are on the Internet. A-Fib.com was a huge resource for me. And being able to read other’s symptoms and see that there were options available to be A-Fib free was extremely comforting.
If you do not want to continue living with the stress and anxiety of A-Fib, you don’t have to! I was mistaken in believing that my cardiologist knew best that seeking a cure wasn’t necessary, until I came face to face with horrible depression, anxiety and at times anger. These were at times so bad that I remember saying that I didn’t care if I woke up the next day. I was distant from my work and family life and secluded myself.
If you feel the same way and need reassurance or to talk to someone who knows how you feel, please take the time to talk to one of the A-Fib support volunteers, like myself, on this site. Good luck in your journey!