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Irregular heart rhythm won’t stop personal trainer

Personal trainer, Andy Waterworth, has kept fit and looked after himself his whole life. So when he was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation his first thought was 'why me?'.

Andy Waterworth

Personal trainer, Andy Waterworth, completed the 10km Omokoroa Coastal Challenge in October 2019.

Personal trainer, Andy Waterworth, has kept fit and looked after himself his whole life. So when he was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation his first thought was 'why me?'.

The 50-year-old Aucklander started experiencing exhausting episodes of atrial fibrillation while training for a marathon.

"One day I went out for a training run, and I just felt absolutely shattered, no energy whatsoever. My breathing was fine, but I just didn't have any energy. I ran a little bit, just shattered, walked, ran a little bit, shattered, walked."

Two days later, after running for just a kilometre, Andy felt the same devastating fatigue. He headed home for a rest before getting on the treadmill in his studio. By then he felt fine, so he thought little of it. His wife, a nurse, couldn’t find anything wrong so she suggested he make an appointment with the doctor.

Andy headed in to see the doctor. After seeing the results of his electrocardiograph (ECG) at the doctor's surgery, the nurse asked Andy to wait while she sent his ECG for review by a cardiologist.

"The nurse looked at the ECG and said, 'That's a really weird rhythm'. She told me it was a good thing I was so fit, otherwise I wouldn't be walking around."

Atrial fibrillation is an irregular heart rhythm, which can result in an increased risk of stroke for some. That's why it's important to check your pulse for any irregularities.

"Because my wife's a nurse, we sat down and talked about the condition. I had it twice when I was running, something weird when I saw the doctor and once in hospital, but the fact is, I've only had two episodes that affected me and they could have been one-offs and it may not happen again, and with the medication I've been given, that's relaxed my heart so it might not happen again. But we don't know."

"Every time I do any exercise, I'm thinking to myself, 'Is it going to happen now, is it going to happen now?' That's obviously something that psychologically, I've got to deal with. So it’s always in the back of my mind."

“I’ve started running again, I've been running on the treadmill fine at home. I'm quite lucky that I’m a personal trainer, I've got the gear here in the house so I can get back to running in a controlled environment. And also, my wife's been with me every time that I've run on the treadmill.

Andy's advice is to get on with life and take things as they come.

"It would be so easy to say, 'Oh no, this has happened to me, I can’t carry on, if I do it's going to happen again.' And that would be wrong. Because as far as I'm aware, all the tests have shown that my heart is healthy and physically there’s nothing wrong with it – apart from the large atrium, and many endurance athletes have got that. On the report it actually said, 'athlete's heart'.

"So it would be wrong for me to curl up in a ball and stop doing what I enjoy just because I’ve had these two or three little episodes."

The Heart Foundation is offering people in 18 locations throughout New Zealand, the chance to get free pulse checks during the week of 18-24 November 2019, as part of its atrial fibrillation awareness campaign.

Learn how to check your pulse