In A-Fib at Age 25!—Deals with the Anxiety
by Jay Teresi, 2011
My A-Fib story begins at age 25 (before marriage and kids). As with many people, my attack began suddenly and without warning. My A-Fib presented with a very rapid heartbeat; so it was a rather scary event, especially for a 25 year old. I had been at a dinner party and drank some wine. The doctors in the ER pronounced it holiday heart and informed me that I would likely never deal with this again. I stayed in A-Fib for six days the first time. My heart eventually converted on its own with medication, after which time the doctors ended the medication; and I mostly forgot about the whole episode.
My second experience with A-Fib occurred 2 years later during a round of golf (I was 27 years old). The doctors felt that I was dehydrated and again announced that I would likely never experience this again. My heart converted after 24 hours with medication. (This time I was admitted to the intensive care unit overnight, so needless to say that got my attention.) (I have since learned that this was an overreaction on the hospital’s part.)
Although I was told to forget about A-Fib, I found that I could not. I made many lifestyle changes, quit drinking altogether, began exercising, and eating healthier.
Life moved on, and I was promoted to Austin, TX and moved from California. After a year I began to feel better and not worry so much; then the third episode occurred. This time, however, things were different. The doctors in TX were very aggressive; and after 2 hours of no response to medications in the ER, they cardioverted me on the spot in the ER (to this point I never even knew that was an option, had never heard of cardioversion).
I was placed on medication to regulate rhythm. For whatever reason I had many side effects to the medication. It was a tough 5 months. My cardiologist sent me to an EP doctor who talked to me about ablation. I didn’t even know that was possible. I was very excited about being free of A-Fib, since I had allowed it to start limiting my activities (quit camping, hard exercise, and stopped enjoying most activities I found pleasurable before the episodes). I had my first ablation in May of 2005, performed by Dr. Jason Zagrodsky at Texas Cardiac Arrhythmia. I had an awesome experience (this is an incredible, cutting edge group of doctors). The procedure was successful, and I was A-Fib free.
Dealing With A-Fib Anxiety
While the heart was doing great, I dealt with a ton of anxiety which I have learned is a side effect for many heart patients. Of the entire experience of the last 10 years, anxiety has been the greatest challenge (Don’t beat yourself up if you deal with this. Be honest with the doctors about it and get help. And help your family to understand as they are your greatest support system).
All went well for three years until February of 2008 when I suddenly went into A-Fib again (I broke my rule about stimulants and took some sinus medication. That was a mistake!)
Needless to say I was pretty crushed. After 24 hours in the hospital, I was transported and cardioverted by the doctor who had done my original ablation. They wanted to let it go and see how things played out, which we did. For the first time I began having frequent heart palpitations which unnerved me greatly. After a month we opted for a second ablation.
This ablation was performed by Dr. Joseph Gallinghouse out of the same group, with experimental equipment (a robotic arm, cool stuff). He explained that my first procedure was a success. However, during the healing process a tiny spot did not scar, and this allowed the A-Fib to trip again (This was the hypothesis. However he confirmed this when he went in for the second surgery).
The procedure was a success. He ablated that portion and touched up all the other areas. My procedure and recovery were flawless, no complications whatsoever.
A-Fib Free Without Meds, But Some Problems
I have now been A-Fib free for three years this March (2011). I have still dealt with the anxiety. And for some reason frequent heart palpitations have become part of my life. However I am medication free. In addition my second procedure left me with frequent heartburn (something I never had before), a side effect I have learned comes occasionally with ablation.
While I have learned that A-Fib has created some challenges for me, I have also garnered many blessings. I exercise 6 days a week, eat very healthy and am in the best shape of my life at age 35. Not sure I would ever take this good care if I had not experienced A-Fib (I want to be around for my 4 little kids!)
Advice for the Young With A-Fib
My advice for young A-Fib patients is if you are a candidate for ablation, go for it! Also, be gentle with yourself if you experience fear or anxiety as a result of A-Fib (You are normal, you have been through a traumatic experience!) A-Fib is more mentally debilitating rather than physically for the young. Keep that in mind! The heart is a strong muscle that can often handle more than the psyche can.
My EP here in Atlanta (Dr. Andrew Wickliffe, Piedmont Heart Institute) says it best, “Jay, you are not a guy with a heart problem. You live life and leave the A-Fib to me. It is my problem, not yours.”
So try and see the blessings you have received from A-Fib and not the challenges. As a Christian I take heart in knowing that the Lord will never give me more than I can bear.
Take care and God Bless,
Jay Teresi, Atlanta GA
E-mail: jjteresi(at) yahoo.com
We thank Jay for sharing his story. See our book, Beat Your A-Fib, for Jay’s wife’s story and her struggle to maintain a family life during Jay’s low points.
If you are dealing with anxiety and fear, see our article: Seven Ways to Cope With Your A-Fib Fear and Anxiety.