The last time I dedicated an entire post to my crazy heart, I explained how I came to be diagnosed with supraventricular tachycardia, or SVT. SVT is a heart condition in which the sufferer experiences sudden onset of rapid heart rate which can reach 200 beats per minute or more. While it is not life threatening, it sure can be scary. I am happy to report that after an often annoying, some times downright frightful ride that began when I was a teenager, I am 95% confident I am now free of SVT!
Let me explain.
I was most likely born with SVT, but it did not become apparent until I was a teenager. During my senior track season, I experienced at least two episodes. I saw a cardiologist, but because the episodes were never caught on a monitor and all my tests came back normal, I was dismissed as having some minor heart quirk and sent on my way.
I carried this attitude through most of my 30’s, believing the episodes of rapid heart rate were just a benign quirk. I even had plans to write a post here about heart palpitations in runners. Little did I know that I was about to finally understand what was going on and that this quirk was something much bigger that I had ever imagined it would be.
After an ER visit with a raging episode of rapid heart beat while I was six months pregnant, I was finally diagnosed with SVT. My electrophysiologist (a specialist in the electrical pathways of the heart) suggested I go in for a non-surgical procedure to correct the abnormality causing the SVT soon after I delivered the baby. However, I went through the final three months with no additional SVT episodes, and delivered my healthy baby girl exactly 3 months after the episode that sent me to the ER.
After I had the baby, I told my electrophysiologist that I wanted to wait a year before having the procedure. That way, my daughter wouldn’t be so dependent on me to nurse, and my body would be back to normal. This seemed like a great plan until I caught that stupid norovirus stomach bug that was going around, became severely dehydrated and experienced dozens of short, but intense SVT episodes over the course of a week. It was so annoying and frankly, scary that with the support of my husband, I decided enough was enough. I called my doctor and scheduled the procedure for January 30th.
The procedure is called a catheter ablation. What it is, is the doctor makes an incision into the groin and places catheters up a vein into the heart. Then, the doctor induces an SVT episode to find where the abnormality, an extra electrical pathway, is. Once located, the doctor ablates it, or burn it. This destroys the extra electrical pathway, thus curing the SVT.
Yeah, this scared the bejeezus out of me. I’m not going to lie! I was petrified. I was worried it would interfere with my ability to continue nursing my baby. I was worried about horrible complications, particularly something preventing me from training at a high level. Particularly, if I had the type of SVT they thought I had, I ran a 3% risk of needing a pacemaker when all was said and done. Eek! I also googled the procedure and let’s just say it was a bad idea! I had a couple of freak-out moments when I wanted to back out, but every time I came to the same conclusion: the SVT was not going to get better, only worse and the procedure will never be easier. So, I put my fears out of my mind and bravely went ahead with the planned procedure.
Because I am exclusively nursing the baby, I made arrangements with my electrophysiologist, the hospital and my husband to keep the baby with me during my overnight stay at the hospital. I pumped like a mad woman in the two weeks leading up to the procedure and then because the baby was with me, was able to nurse her right before receiving anesthesia.
The hospital staff were all amazingly wonderful. My doctor’s partner explained all the possible locations of the abnormal extra pathway and the risks of ablating each. The one they thought I most likely had was easy to reach with the catheter, but ran the high-ish risk of needing a pacemaker. It turned out that was exactly the kind I had. After going under I woke up to the doctors working to induce the SVT. I was groggy, but awake enough to see the catheters in my heart on the monitor and to be able to tell them when I felt the episode. They had my hear rate up above 230 bpm! They reassured me over and over that it was ok and everything was going according to plan. Once they induced the SVT, they put me back under and I awoke to learn they found the spot and ablated it with a 95% chance it was completely destroyed. Because of it’s location and the risk of causing a block which would require a pacemaker they were conservative in the amount of tissue they destroyed, which I completely appreciated!
By the late afternoon I was able to walk a little bit. Only the incision site hurt a bit. It felt like a bad bruise. I was groggy and tired, but it wasn’t bad. I had to pump one time and dump the milk to flush any residual medication out of the milk and was then able to continue nursing the baby by 5:00 p.m. My husband fed her two and a half bottles in between my last 9:00 a.m. feeding and 5:00 p.m. Everything went off without a hitch.
Right now I’m about 30 hours post procedure and feeling good. I have to be careful not to lift anything bigger than the baby for a week so I do not start bleeding from the incision site. Otherwise, I have no restrictions. I am allowed to start running again next week, but must ease back into it, more to protect my vein where the catheters went in. As far as my heart is concerned I have zero restrictions! I am as good, if not better than new!
I am so excited to finally have this behind me and now I can really look forward to staging my comeback. Look out world!
If you’re an athlete or a pregnant woman with SVT, feel free to contact me with any questions (saltyrunning [at] gmail [dot] com). I was so scared about the condition and the ablation and it would have helped me tremendously to have someone like me to talk to.