“Heart procedure opened up my life again”
After suffering regular episodes of a heart arrhythmia called SVT, a cardiac ablation gave teenager Kaitlin her life back. Here she shares her story.
Two years ago, at the age of 17, I had my heart rhythm chemically stopped for the first time. I was working behind a bar at the time and it was coming up to knock off time. I grabbed a cloth and stepped down a small step onto the floor from behind the bar. All of a sudden my heart felt like it was beating out of my chest. Assuming I had just winded myself I grabbed a glass of water and continued wiping tables. An hour passed and my heart rate was still high. Not wanting to worry anyone I battled through it.
Nearly two or three hours had passed and I had sat down to eat dinner with my co-workers. My heart rate elevated again and I began to go white. My speech slowed and I became increasingly dizzy. It was at that point I said I needed to go to a hospital.
On arrival I was rushed into the resuscitation bay, had defibrillator pads, ECG stickers and a machine attached, and was deemed with a heart rate of 285 that my heart was in super ventricular tachycardia (SVT). Before I even knew it, I had a needle put in my arm and told they were going to chemically restart my heart with a medication called adenosine.
The moment the adenosine was given to me, my whole body froze. I went to breathe and couldn't move. I watched the ECG machine as my heart rate went from scribbles like a three-year-old had done them, to completely dropping off the screen. Then all of a sudden my heart rate picked up again. This time normal and consistent. I was referred to a cardiologist and sent home not fully knowing what had just happened but was assured that I would be alright.
Lack of information a challenge
Not knowing what SVT was, or how and why and when I had developed it, was probably the most daunting thing for me. People would ask what actually happened and what was actually wrong with me and all I could tell them was I had a heart condition called SVT. I didn’t have a single clue on something that had affected me majorly. Google made no sense and confused me more than anything, so I just waited to see if it would happen again.
Sure enough about three months later my heart glitched and went into SVT at a rate of 260. However this time I asked the Emergency Department doctor to explain everything he could to me. But he couldn't give me all the answers as my heart seemed to be a peculiar case. They couldn't quite pinpoint which chamber it was glitching from, whether it was just one or more. They gave me exercises to try when my heart got into SVT. Nothing ever worked.
Over the next year I would have another seven referrals to a cardiologist at a larger hospital in the public sector, but not even a whisper of an appointment. The episodes became more frequent and more violent. Averaging around 280-300bpm and happening three to four times a fortnight. My worst stint was four days out of seven in hospital just because it had slipped out of rhythm again. The one sentence I kept hearing was "You're lucky you're young because this could have done some damage".
Being young meant my heart had the elasticity to pump copious amounts of blood without affecting it too badly.
Realising the delays in the public health system, my family and I decided that we would go privately. I saw the cardiologist two days later and had a heart surgery booked for three weeks from the date. I had an amazing cardiologist, who was the man who finally gave me answers about what was happening and said, 'well let's get it fixed'.
Heart procedure doesn't go as planned
I travelled to Hamilton to Braemar Hospital to have an ablation (a procedure in which the cells inside the heart that are causing the abnormal rhythm are destroyed). The procedure took longer than expected and multiple nerve endings (over 15) were burnt but the condition kept rearing its ugly head. Eventually they pulled the pin before they got to close to some of my vital nerves and I was closed up and returned for recovery.
The reality of the procedure not working set in when the consultant came out to my bed scrubbed up for his next patient to break the bad news. It hadn't worked and he was just as upset as I was that it hadn't been successful.
Nevertheless he had a plan B and worked with his team around NZ to concoct the next stages of how to fix me.
Within a week I was rung to say I was to be in Auckland in four weeks time for pre-procedure checks on 24 July, with the procedure planned for the following day.
Donors step in to help with costs
I then had to pull a miracle to get the money needed to go through with the procedure. My family decided that as our last effort we would make a Givealittle page.
Almost overnight my family was overwhelmed with the amount of support we had received.
My Givealittle page reached $11k overnight and I received significant sums from Taranaki charity Mellowpuff Trust and The Lions Club, as well as an anonymous donation of $7k.
The amount of stress that was taken off my parents' shoulders was immense and we are eternally grateful.
Second time lucky
The day of my procedure had arrived. My heart truly did skip a beat that day waiting anxiously to see if this would all come to an end.
Funnily enough the morning I was operated on was the morning the consultant was flying to Australia to live. I was his last ablation in NZ for quite some time.
I was wheeled down to the theatre to be sedated. My anaesthesiologist was amazing, this time opting for my line in through my hand which for me was a lot less painful and easier to deal with. He stayed with me the entire time. I was given headphones by him to listen to my favourite music during the ablation and he was never far away in case I needed more pain relief.
The feeling of being alert during a heart procedure truly was the weirdest but most reassuring thing. It won't always been sunshine and rainbows but being awake gives you the advantage of knowing what's going on.
Finally after what seemed like forever of zoning in and out of consciousness the procedure was done and the doctors agreed I was "good to go".
I'm not usually a crier but in that moment I burst into tears. The nurses still had pressure on my incision site to prevent a haematoma and we all just kind of stood there tearing up for a bit. Craziest atmosphere ever.
I was finally wheeled back up to my room and my recovery was to start. I had to stay on my back for four to five hours to reduce the chance of a blood clot. The nurses were amazing and very attentive which made me feel at ease since the whole situation to me was very overwhelming.
The one thing I want to comment on in regards to the incision site is that if you look after it properly then it will heal with pretty much no scar. If you don't take it easy then your incision site will probably be bumpy and red. Listen to the doctors and nurses.
Fast forward to being home. I had a few complications but nothing too major, and nothing that sitting down and actually resting (like I was told) didn't fix. The first was that I lost feeling from the knee up on the side my incision was made. This was due to the fact that the cut had been opened up twice in a month instead of healing properly which affected my nerves for a bit. My second was having extremely poor circulation on that one leg causing me to be cold a lot of the time. But this soon resolved itself.
The ablation has helped me to open my life back up and all its opportunities. If the doctors in private practice had not taken me on I would had never had the quality of life I have now. I now have the ability to run and have my fitness back. To go be a teenager and have a few drinks and party without ending up in a hospital for high heart rate.
Shared November 2020