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From flutter to fibrillation

As an avid Formula One fan, Bernard found himself in the race of his life when his heart started beating out of control. Over the next twelve months, he had three ablations while trying to get his heart rhythm under control.

It was three days before Christmas 2016 when Bernard felt his heart start to race. A visit to Accident and Emergency (A&E) revealed he was experiencing atrial flutter, where the heart beats extra quickly.

“They discharged me safely from the emergency rooms, but I had to wait three or four weeks before I could see a cardiologist, I couldn’t talk to anyone clinical over that holiday period. It was quite trying, living with that uncertainty. I just had to put my head down and work through it myself.”

Bernard found some of the online resources really valuable. “I found it reassuring, learning what the problem is, what the solution is, and what side effects can be. But obviously for any one of us when we learn that we’ve got something wrong with our hearts for the first time, it’s always a little bit daunting.”

One of the ways Bernard dealt with his diagnosis was through talking to his family.

“I’ve learnt in the past that, for me, it’s always better if I’m very open about anything with my family. I think if you bottle it up, you increase the load on yourself. But I’m conscious that you can get into worrying unnecessarily and talking too much about the problem.”

When Bernard got to the cardiologist, he was promptly scheduled for an ablation – just a few days later, thanks to his health insurance.

“That got rid of the atrial flutter from that point on.”

Arrhythmia symptoms return

Six months later, Bernard could feel his heartbeat was out of sync again and he ended up back in A&E. Doctors told him he had developed atrial fibrillation, a very similar type of arrhythmia to the atrial flutter he’d originally experienced but this time his heart was beating both extra quickly and irregularly.

“Apparently it’s not uncommon to go from flutter to fibrillation. After that it became quite difficult for me. It was quite tiring, I lacked energy, and it disrupted my sleep.” 

At this stage, another ablation was scheduled for three months later.

Health impacts on work

Employed as a senior facilities manager, Bernard found his fatigue frustrating but managed to keep working in the same role.

“It was quite difficult to concentrate and have the energy to see through a full day at work. I’ve got a team that relies on me and I’m required to report up to senior executives.

“I was very open about it with my work colleagues so they could understand why I might not be performing as normal at work. I had to cut back quite a bit, doing short days and also working at home at different times. People were quite understanding of that.”

Medication challenges

Finding the right type of beta blocker medication to help steady Bernard’s heart rhythm was a matter of trial-and-error.

“I had an intolerance for two of them which was quite powerful. The side effects were worse than some of the effects of the arrhythmia. So that was quite problematic. But I observed what was happening and spoke to the cardiologist and they switched the medication.

“The third medication has been fine. It really varies for every person. Doctors can tell you what to expect, but we all react differently to the medication we’re given.”

Trying to keep things ‘normal’

Despite his symptoms, Bernard and his wife managed to follow through on plans to watch the Grand Prix in Singapore.

“I generally go to Melbourne every year for the Australian Grand Prix, and I do another international one every year or every second year. My wife goes with me, she’s also interested.”

A few weeks after returning from Singapore, in October, Bernard went in for his long-awaited second ablation.

“Unfortunately, almost straight after that ablation I was getting the same symptoms again. It was decided pretty quickly to re-do that. So I had my third ablation on the 22nd of November.”

A longer recovery

Although Bernard had no problems recovering after his first two procedures, which were fairly short, he says it took him a bit longer after the third procedure which lasted five-and-a-half hours.

“There’s the effect of recovering from the general anaesthetic and there’s also scarring inside the atrium so the body’s doing quite a bit of recovery and that drags you down a bit. 

“It took me about three weeks to go through the recovery of that third ablation. But after this last one I’m fine and dandy now. I’ve had no arrhythmias since then.”


Shared February 2018

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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  • Bernard 14 May 2018

    Hi Karen, I know that it must be challenging for you. It’s good if medication works but for me it was not the ideal solution and I went down the path of ablations but as you will have read from my story the outcome can vary. It’s been great for me since my final ablation controlled my AF

  • Karen 17 April 2018

    Congratulations on your successful third ablation. I have had AF for two years controlled by medication. My episodes are increasing and I’m considering an ablation. From what I have read the sooner the ablation the better and to make sure you have an experienced surgeon. Thank you.