MY HEART STORY
Most afibbers get this huge shock when they experience their first scary heart arrhythmia episode. Well, the same thing happened to me when I was 24 years old.
But, and this is a big but, I feel blessed that I’m still here and able to live a full life every day, and hopefully add value to my world. Happy to have a beautiful wife and two talented and wonderful children.
MY ATRIAL FIBRILATION STORY
I was born in sunny wonderful South Africa, where I still live. My mother did not know that I was born with Tetralogy of Fallot (TOF), this was back in 1971. Nowadays they can pick up TOF much earlier. Well it turned out that I was a blue baby due to the lack of oxygenated blood in my body, caused by the TOF.
Fast forward to 1976 and the doctors decide to operate on me in Bloemfontein. This was still a very new procedure in those days, and I am very glad that everything went well. So during my school years my heart usually kept it’s beat, I say usually because I think that there were a few episodes of afib but they never lasted very long. As you would think I did pay attention to my heart and what it was doing and how I was treating it.
I went for regular checkups and because they said that if I did not have the operation in 1976 I would have only lived to 21, I was very happy to reach 21, relatively event free. So I thought this was home free for me, my heart is alright and I can go on with my life. I even made the cut and joined the Police, and yes, I had to prove my heart was OK. I did not know that my TOF surgery made me susceptible to heart arrhythmia.
HOW DID MY AFIB START
Then the curve ball, I went to the Kruger National Park (where you can see the big 5) and had to drink malaria prevention medication. My heart went out of rhythm. The doctors there did not really know what was going on and back in Bloemfontein they also struggled to figure out what the problem was. I visited a few doctors and used different types of medicine, but I was not 100%.
Then luckily I was referred to Dr Jordaan at the Universitas Hospital at the Free State University. He diagnosed me correctly and also did my first cardio version on me.
During this period I did have other “incidents” of fainting and using of wrong medication but overall things were not bad. But I did not know that my biggest challenge was just around the corner.
At the beginning of 1997 I had my first panic attack. All I could think about was my heart. The short version of the story is that I ended up in the emergency room of a local hospital. One wise doctor asked me if I had ever seen a psychologist after my afib problems and cardio version a year or so ago. No, because nobody told me about the psychological effects such a dramatic incident could have on a 24-year-old person in the prime of his life.
Then a big roller coaster of emotions and fears consumed me, and darkened my life for about 6-8 months. I can remember that in one week I saw three doctors, my GP, a homeopath and a cardiologist and all of them said there was nothing wrong with me. Then as if sent from above I went to see a psychiatrist. He helped me to understand that I cannot be in control all the time.That I will have to die some day, but that it may not be very soon and I may still have a very long and full life before that happens.
I am a reborn Christian and believe in life after death, but if death gets you by the throat (must read heart) and squeezes life and breath out of you, you know that you do not really want to die now. So fear was my closest companion for a while. Enough said, many of you afibbers will know what I mean.
Then a breakthrough, the wet socks episode (more about this later).
My life went on, children, work, a motorbike accident, car accident and all those interesting stuff.
Then in 2002 Dr Jordaan (yes in my language it is Jordaan and not Jordan) told me that my heart was out of rhythm, but because of the medication I could not really feel it this time, and he suggested that I see another doctor (cardiologist). This has been the only time that I had heart arrhythmia that I could not feel.
My new doctor, Ian Roscher did 3 cardio version’s on me in 2002, and told me that I had big problems if my heart went out of sinus every time.I was also drinking a cocktail of medicines by that stage. So like before I did what I knew I could do and that was pray. The answer did not come in the format that I expected, but it did come and I had hope again.
HEART ARRHYTHMIA ABLATION
At the beginning of 2003 I went to Pretoria for an ablation. Dr Janse van Rensburg was reportedly only one of 4 ablation specialists in South Africa at that stage. He told me that he was only 70% successful because one of my heart chambers was too big (I think it is the right atrium) and his instrument was too short to do it 100%.
After the ablation my heart did go afib a few times, I got it back, once with prayer (I have faith in God), twice with cardio version and while playing squash (similar to racket ball) I have also felt it coming and going.
I am very blessed to also see Prof Stephen Brown a Paediatric Cardiologist from time to time. Because I was born with Tetralogy of Fallot he is in a much better position to understand the physiology of my heart,and why my atrium(I think it is the right one) is so much bigger than a normal heart.
EXERCISE FOR MY HEART ARRHYTHMIA
I keep myself fit by doing mountain biking, road cycling, jogging and other exercises at home. I try to eat right and keep stress to the minimum.
Now I am afib free for 2 years and keep an eye on what I eat, drink and what I do or not do.
I wanted to tell my story, document what I have learned and help other people with my story and discoveries. My heart arrhythmia journey can help you.
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