Skip to main content

Cardioversion helps Dean get back to an active lifestyle

When Dean first noticed symptoms of the heart rhythm condition atrial fibrillation, he tried to ignore them. But after experiencing a difficult wait for treatment, he’s encouraging others to see a doctor as soon as symptoms appear.

Dean is the kind of guy who’s always on the go. The 55-year-old’s hobbies include rugby, golf and racing motorbikes, and his day job on a worksite means he’s rarely sitting still. 

“I’m maybe not a picture of fitness, but I am pretty active,” says Dean. “I’ve got a physically active job driving trucks, throwing chains and whatnot. I move around most of the time and am always active around the house. I’m not sitting back and being idle. That pretty much sums me up.” 

Dean was surprised when, one day at work, he suddenly felt exhausted and breathless. He was used to feeling like he had an endless supply of energy. 

“I really started to struggle. I was just out of energy and lethargic. I didn’t really know why or what was going on. By the time I’d walked around the trailer, chained up and got back in the cab, I had to sit on the seat for a bit and take a deep breath, which is totally not like me.”  

Symptoms get worse

The following day Dean noticed further symptoms, and by the weekend, the situation intensified. 

“On Saturday, I stood up to get out of bed - I didn’t collapse, but I was absolutely buggered, so I sat back down again. I just had no energy,” he recalls. 

As a former St John Ambulance volunteer, Dean had his own stethoscope. When he listened to his heart, he noticed an unusual rhythm. Rather than seek medical help straight away, however, he decided to see if things improved on their own. 

“I was still fairly new to my job, and I didn’t have any sick leave, so I carried on,” Dean explains. “Slowly, things got progressively harder and harder. Each day I was out of energy, to the point where, two weeks later, it got too much.”  

Atrial fibrillation diagnosis

Dean headed to the local hospital, where he was quickly diagnosed with atrial fibrillation (AF), a condition in which the heart beats unevenly and often very fast or slow. 

“When I was admitted, I think the heart rate was up in the 190s. Then it would drop right down when it would miss a beat”. 

Dean spent seven days in hospital while doctors tried to get his heart back into a normal rhythm by using medication.  

“The cardiologist had me on the strongest dose he could, but my heart wouldn’t slow down. It would slow down a little bit and then kick back up again. They couldn’t get me to where they wanted me.” 

Doctors recommended electrical cardioversion - a procedure where a defibrillator shocks the heart back to a normal rhythm. Before the procedure could take place, however, a scan showed blood clots in Dean’s heart. This meant the cardioversion was put on hold until Dean had taken a course of blood thinners to remove the clots and reduce his stroke risk.  

Difficult wait for heart procedure

The doctors advised Dean to stay off work until after the cardioversion. It was a hard time for him and his partner emotionally and financially.

“I got sent home for five or six weeks on the blood thinners. When I’d first gone to the hospital, I was only six months into the new job, so I managed to get a week’s sick leave, but the rest of the time, there was no income because it wasn’t an accident, so no ACC.” 

He also found the lack of energy frustrating, and taking things easy proved difficult. 

“I can’t just sit around and do nothing. So, I’d take a fishing rod and walk up the river. It was quiet and relaxing, but I still had to be strategic about what I did, especially with things like mowing the lawns and gardening. It was frustrating, and it was slowly getting worse. Towards the end, I’d just about had enough. It was very frustrating as well as uncomfortable. 

“My partner got very anxious about my condition and about me chucking it off with the ‘I’ll be alright, ‘it’ll be sweet’ kind of thing. It was very hard on her emotionally and financially. I was a bit worried too. I went in and changed my will before I went in for the cardioversion, just in case it didn’t quite go to plan.”  

Cardioversion brings immediate relief

Thankfully, Dean’s cardioversion was successful, and he felt the benefit immediately. After a further two weeks of recovery, Dean was allowed back to work and has now got his life back on track.
“I’ve been back on the race bike at the speedway, and I’ve been back on the field for a couple of games of social rugby. I haven’t been back on the golf course yet, but I’m back to how I was before going into AF,” he says. 

On reflection, he says he wishes he’d gone to the doctor sooner. 
“The key takeaway is that I knew I wasn’t right, and I should have gone looking for help a little bit earlier. In hindsight, I don’t know if it would have changed anything, but it would have got me into the system and fixed a little earlier.” 

His best advice to others is to get symptoms investigated straight away. He also says a positive mindset and good support are essential. 

“Everyone I interacted with in the Hutt hospital was absolutely awesome. It certainly made the time there comfortable, and we had a lot of laughs. It’s a victory story, and it’s a happy ending. You’ve just got to be a little bit positive. It gets tough at times, but having good staff and people around certainly makes it much easier.” 

Shared October 2022

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

Find similar stories

View all stories
  • Be the first to post a comment.