Kristy Sidlar Michigan
So there I was on the side of the road by myself, lying next to my bicycle. I was fading in and out of consciousness, honestly wondering if these were going to be my last moments. My plans to compete in the triathlon I was training for were far from my mind. What I was thinking was, “Why is this happening? Why today?” It was my 31st birthday.
After about 40 minutes of my heart racing at 280 beats per minute, another cyclist finally rode by and called 911. Paramedics arrived and used an automatic external defibrillator (yep…the shock paddles) to normalize my heartbeat. I was rushed to the hospital where doctors spent 10 days trying to find a diagnosis for my erratic and very fast heat beat. The doctors said, “We can’t fix you, but we can save your life.”
They planned to do a relatively standard procedure called radiofrequency ablation but once they “got in” they realized my heart was riddled with cells that conduct extra impulses, causing rapid heartbeat. The best option available to me at that point wasn’t the ablation; they decided to install an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD). It’s a device about the size of a pager that is essentially a set of shock paddles inside my chest. And they prescribed a bunch of meds to get my heart rate under control.
I can hardly believe it’s been almost 15 years since I was diagnosed with Arrhythmogenic Right Ventricular Dysplasia. At the time I wasn’t really worried about the surgery or the shocks from the ICD. What really tore me up was when the doctors told me I wouldn’t be able to train again. I was a bit of a fitness-crazed young woman, and I couldn’t imagine living without this part of my life.
I didn’t listen at first. I couldn’t let it go. Finally, after I went flying off a treadmill and into the mirror at the gym when my ICD went off during a running workout, I realized that it just wasn’t worth it anymore. Now I walk, workout at a moderate pace on the elliptical and do yoga. My big mindset shift was: “I don’t have to be competitive. I need to do what keeps me healthy.”
For 13 years now I have been a volunteer and spokesperson for the American Heart Association. These are my two core messages:
• You don’t have to be old or fat or eat fried food to be at risk for heart disease.
• Be proactive with your doctors.
Too often people (women in particular) get dismissed by doctors saying that their irregular heartbeats or high blood pressure are stress related or caused by other factors like pregnancy. Maybe they are…but maybe they AREN’T! My experience with this was a six-month-long pursuit for answers after a fainting episode in my late twenties. I was told I was dehydrated. I was told I hadn’t eaten enough, I was told it was the caffeine. Finally, doctors ran the right tests and determined I had a problem with my right ventricle and they treated me accordingly.
Living a heart healthy life can be both easy and hard. It’s taking those first few steps that are the hard part, but healthy habits can become so easy to live by. Please check out the many resources at heart.org to see how you can know your risks, know your numbers and take the right steps to great heart health. And pass this information on to your friends and family. Every little bit of education helps…everyone!