As a child, I was told my only option to live a normal life was to have open-heart surgery. My parents didn’t think this was the best solution for me, and became my biggest advocates. This is why I made a commitment to pay it forward and like my parents, I would be a voice for those who don’t have one –children. Here is my story:
At age one, I was diagnosed with Paroxysmal Supraventricular Tachycardia (PSVT), and by age eight, I discovered I had another problem - Wolff–Parkinson–White Syndrome (WPW). My heart produced irregular heartbeats. During an episode, my resting heartrate would run 150 to 200 or upwards of 300 beats per minute. My case was difficult to control because attacks occurred frequent - a couple times a week was normal for me. I was hospitalized often for various reasons either for heart procedures or for monitoring of new drug therapies. One side effect of a drug caused me to go into a diabetic coma. My doctors told me that eventually I would need open-heart surgery. Even though my episodes were often, my doctors agreed this surgery could be delayed. My parents made sure I saw the top cardiologist, remained current on new cardiovascular advancements, and encouraged me to live a normal, active lifestyle; swimming, playing tennis and running. They were my voice when others simply did not listen to me.
My heart became a barrier as I got older, and I was eager to have my heart problem fixed. So, at age 17, my parents looked into a new non-invasive surgery: Cardiac Ablation. Still being studied, this heart procedure was available at two locations; University of Oklahoma and the University of Michigan. I would later learn that this breakthrough heart surgery was initially funded by an American Heart Association research grant.
During the summer of 1991, Dr. Fred Morady, cardiologist with the University of Michigan, performed my first cardiac ablation. The procedure was difficult because a good pathway was wrapped around a bad one, like licorice. One nick on the good pathway, and I would forever be on a pacemaker. The procedure was a success, and I still remember Dr. Morady telling me he fixed it. My reaction: tears. A week later, I participated in a week-long intensive tennis camp.
Ten years after this procedure, I discovered I had another irregular heart rhythm, so I underwent my second heart ablation at Washington University in St. Louis. My recovery was quick, but unfortunately, it didn’t completely fix the irregular heart rhythm. I consider this a blessing, though, because these extra beats tell me when I need to pay attention to my body: manage my stress, eat healthy, and exercise.
I am so grateful to my parents for ensuring I had access to the best healthcare, my cardiologists and medical staff who took great care of me, and the American Heart Association for funding the exploratory heart procedure that forever changed my life. From an early age, I knew I wanted to have children, and so it has been my greatest gift that I became a mom to my son, Peyton (11), and my daughter, Phoebe (7). The bonus is they are healthy, smart, and active kids.
Just as my parents did for me, I want to be the voice for others. That is why I volunteer for the American Heart Association’s You’re the Cure advocacy initiatives and advocate for heart health for all children. We have come a long way, but there is still a lot of work that needs to be done to make sure our children grow up to be healthy, active adults.