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A brush with severe bradycardia

As someone who was training for an ultra-marathon, Rachel assumed her very low heart rate was a sign of her fitness. In fact she was in need of a pacemaker for a serious heart rhythm condition.

Mine is a story of an 'electrical fault' in the heart – a serious condition with an instant fix!

I was 51, fit, ate well and was about the right weight. So in June 2018, when I began to feel tenderness in my chest, it was not bad enough to slow me down. Then when I became short of breath going upstairs and slightly dizzy when I stood up, I decided I lacked iron and stepped up my iron intake. When I lay in bed one night and felt my pulse barely getting to 30 beats per minute, I thought 'wow, I must be fitter than I thought'.

This was all within the space of five days. I remember a fleeting moment when I thought, 'this could be serious', then dismissed it as I am robust and healthy.

By day six I was becoming weaker and after my weekly pilates session – apparently, I looked grey – I took myself to the doctor.

Within approximately five minutes I was diagnosed with severe bradycardia, a dangerously low heartbeat. I had an atrioventricular block (AV block) meaning the electrical circuit in my heart had broken down. I was fast tracked to hospital for a pacemaker.

After a week of tests, the cardiologist said, 'no known cause' and assured me this was a good outcome. Mechanically my heart was fine and now with my pacemaker, I was good to go for another 50 years he said. So, I did just that. I was skiing two weeks later and back training for a 50km ultramarathon I had registered for months before my heart episode.

I knew that people had heart issues from being overweight, sedentary, and congenital or genetic reasons. I also knew that people who were incredibly athletic and strained their heart were also at risk as were people in their senior years. It had not occurred to me that a heart problem can strike randomly and have no known cause at any age.

I guess I thought I was almost indestructible, so I found it hard to come to terms with this happening to me. Luckily, because of medical technology, my three teenage sons still have a mother. I do have a little square box outlined in my chest to remind me every time I look in the mirror too!

Shared November 2019

Please note: the views and opinions of the storyteller and related comments may not necessarily reflect those of the Heart Foundation NZ.

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  • Ross 8 March 2024

    Thought the same things about fitness and heart beats
    Standing in the hall saying good night to family I dropped, no warning just felt a bit hungry
    Never heard of bradycardia until I came around in A&E
    Now have a pacemaker and look forward to getting back out
    Bradycardia needs to be more advertised amongst sporting people so they are aware and help break down any myths it’s just a heart attack because you are not fit

  • graeme 4 February 2021

    I have 2 stents now, currently age 72. a rest rate 46/47 bpm.. I am impressed with your story.. running the lengths of NZ. Very encouraging..