Tachycardia (Fast Heartbeat)
Cathy was two hours from home at a school activity for her son when she broke out in a sweat, became lightheaded, and then was gripped with incredible chest pains. Cathy's husband quickly called 911 while friends kept her frightened children, ages 13 and 11, occupied.
The ambulance arrived within minutes, and Cathy was rushed to the hospital. The ER doctor gave Cathy a clot buster and, as she would discover later, by doing so he had saved her life.
Cathy was transported to a larger hospital with a cardiac center. Tests showed Cathy's arteries were not blocked; however, doctors were unable to determine what had caused her heart attack. With her condition stable, Cathy was released from the hospital one week later and was advised to follow up with a cardiologist back home.
Anxious to learn what had caused her heart attack, Cathy underwent extensive testing at a cardiac center after she returned home. The testing revealed a blood clot had blocked her aorta, causing blood to pool in her left ventricle, which blocked her heart from pumping effectively.
An echocardiogram (echo) showed Cathy's ejection fraction (EF) – the percentage of blood pumped out of her heart during each beat – was 23 percent. An EF less than 40 percent may indicate a weakened heart muscle and means the heart is no longer pumping well enough to meet the body's needs. Medical research shows that people with an EF below 35 percent have a significant risk for developing dangerously fast heart rhythms and SCA.
Doctors treated Cathy with a variety of heart medications as well as a blood thinner and monitored her condition closely.
During that time, an aneurysm formed on Cathy's left ventricle. Doctors watched it closely before recommending surgery to remove the aneurysm.
While in the hospital awaiting surgery, Cathy felt her heart flutter, as it sometimes did, and a nurse came running into her room. Her heart monitor had recorded a ventricular tachycardia (VT) episode, which can cause a dangerously fast heart rhythm that can lead to SCA and death. Her doctor believed scar tissue left behind by her blood clot might be causing Cathy's VT. The scar tissue would be removed along with the aneurysm to treat the VT.
The surgery was judged a success – the aneurysm was gone and the scar tissue minimized, her EF was up to 30 percent and the VT episodes appeared to have stopped.
Almost two years later, Cathy's EF had dropped back down to 25 percent and VT episodes had caused her to rush to the emergency room twice fearing SCA. As a result, Cathy's doctor recommended an implantable defibrillator, which would protect her against sudden cardiac death by correcting dangerously fast heart rhythms or delivering lifesaving shock therapy if necessary.
Soon after, on her 25th wedding anniversary, Cathy received an implantable defibrillator. “My husband joked that it was my anniversary present.”
Six months later, Cathy was in her kitchen when she felt lightheaded and a strong pounding in her chest. Data from her implantable defibrillator showed Cathy had experienced an episode of VT. When Cathy's heart rate didn't return to normal, the device conducted antitachycardia pacing to stabilize her heart rate. If pacing had not returned her heart rate to normal, the device should deliver shock therapy that can be lifesaving.
“At first I was scared, but then I realized that my implantable defibrillator likely saved my life.”
Today, Cathy can often be found gardening, quilting, scrapbooking, or playing with her two young grandchildren. She also keeps busy running a WomenHeart support group and speaking with women whose doctors have recommended implantable defibrillators.
“I've been given a second chance, and I feel the need to give back.”
This story reflects one person's experience. Not every person will receive the same results. Talk to your doctor about your treatment options.