Atrial fibrillation: ‘Just something I have to deal with’

While still in his thirties, dad-of-three Sela was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation. This diagnosis led to the additional revelation that Sela had been born with a heart valve problem. This is Sela’s story, as told to the Heart Foundation in an interview.

Sela talks about his journey with atrial fibrillation

“I’m a Samoan New Zealander who doesn’t smoke, I’m not a regular drinker, and I’ve had heart disease. You would think if you looked at me that I’m OK. But it goes to show that heart disease can affect anyone.”

Keeping active with atrial fibrillation

“I know with atrial fibrillation, I’ve got a heart rhythm disorder and it’s not going to fix itself. It’s just something I have to deal with.

“Physically, I’ve had to work a little bit harder. I can’t do as much as I used to because with AF, my heart wants to beat like 1000 beats per minute so I can only do a certain amount of things before I’m just exhausted.

“Because I know that’s going to happen I deal with it and I do as much as I can. But I’m still trying to be physically active – I have that as a goal, to stay as physically active and in the best shape I can, so I can run around with my kids and be a good dad.

“You know, if I hadn’t been diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, they wouldn’t have picked up on the fact that I had mitral valve regurgitation and I wouldn’t be here now. So in a way I’m kind of glad I was diagnosed with AF.”

Repairing Sela's mitral valve – open heart surgery 

“My cardiologist said to me and the family, ‘Basically, we’re going to cut open Sela’s chest, we’re going to break his ribs, and I’m going to pick out his heart and I’m going to sew up the thing.’ So he put it really blatantly what he was going to do to me.

 “I guess I always knew that there was a big risk in going under the knife and all that sort of stuff but I knew things were going to be OK, as OK as can be. It was one of those things, I didn’t really have a choice, it needed to get fixed otherwise I wouldn’t be around.”

Mini-stroke while co-hosting a radio show  

“A couple of years after the open heart surgery, I had a mini-stroke on air. I didn’t know what it was at the time. All I knew was that something went wrong and I was not coherent. 

“I could hear what my co-host was saying to me, but I just couldn’t respond and my body sort of shut down. I remember picking up the phone to talk to a listener who had called through and I couldn’t put the phone back on the hook. But within about three minutes I snapped out of it.

“I thought, I need to get this checked. I went to hospital and they ran through the tests and they diagnosed a mini-stroke because of my AF. 

“They actually tried to stop my heart and see if they can sort it out and get it back into a regular rhythm. But that failed. I was actually clinically dead for a couple of seconds. So I’ve got this condition that I’ve got to deal with, and I’m dealing with it as best I can.”

“I’ve got a beautiful family that supports me and I deal with what I have to deal with. 

“I want to be as positive as I can for my family, my wife and my kids, because it’s going to impact them. I want to make the most of every opportunity I have to be a good dad for my kids and try to be a good husband for my wife.”

Making mental adjustments

“I’ve had my moments, if I was to be honest with you. I have my highs and my lows.

“I asked the question when I had to get open heart surgery, why me? Why me? Because I don’t smoke and I don’t drink regularly. And I’m not big, by any stretch. I try to keep as active and healthy as I can. So why me? 

“Mentally, having to adjust has been hard. Physically, I know what I’m able and not able to do, but sometimes my mind thinks I’m capable of doing more. And sometimes my mind is telling me to say, why, why, why am I going through this? Why should I feel tired easily? And all that sort of stuff.

 “I don’t talk too much about my condition with my family, my brothers and sisters. I only really share the personal stuff with my wife. For me I think it’s more a case of getting it off my chest to my wife, and I don’t need to spread it to everyone else.

“Having a really strong and beautiful family and a really strong and supportive wife definitely helps me. Having someone there to be able to encourage you and talk you through stuff, and for me to be able to bounce off her – it’s been a major, major impact on coping. 

Choose your attitude

“You know, if you have been diagnosed with something, it’s up to you to do the best you can to deal with that. And know that being down about it isn’t going to get you any better – it isn’t. So try to adjust your attitude, try to adjust your mental state to be able to cope with what you have, and know that you will always beat whatever it is mentally if you stay on top of it. There are people out there who can help if and when you need it - you just have to speak up & reach out - there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that at all!

“You do the best you can with what you have and acknowledge that you’re going to have setbacks. You are going to have setbacks, but it’s how you cope with them. You’ve got to have a positive attitude, otherwise it’s going to get you down.”

 

Shared May 2017

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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1 Comment

  • Andrew 16 May 2017

    Had a triple bypass nearly 3 years ago. Did biking and walking after the op and 18 months later biked the Otago Rail Trail. Still biking and in winter using exercycle in the garage. Artery was taken from left leg to do the bypass but the lymph nodes in that leg were damaged. That leg is now quite a bit larger than the right leg. Have also gone up 10kgs and 2 shirt sizes since the op, even with regular exercise. I will be 70 next month.