Bradycardia (Slow Heart Rate)
At 22, Bailey has never known life without a pacemaker. “I was just four months old when I received my first pacemaker,” she says. “My heart wouldn’t be able to function without it, so it’s like a part of me.”
Bailey’s mother, Margaret, was 28 weeks pregnant when prenatal ultrasound testing revealed Bailey’s heart was enlarged and had a structural defect called a common atrium. A typical heart has four chambers. The two upper chambers are called atria and they receive blood that is being returned from the heart. The two bottom chambers are called the ventricles. With a common atrium, the heart has just one upper chamber instead of two and the heart is unable to function properly.
As you would expect, Bailey’s parents were extremely worried. However, as an EKG technician at a leading heart clinic, Bailey’s mother, Margaret, understood there was tremendous hope for her unborn baby. Even so, “That knowledge goes right out the window when it’s your baby. You really are in a position where you have to turn everything over to God and good doctors.”
Three weeks before Margaret’s estimated due date, Bailey’s heart rate began to plummet, indicating fetal distress and prompting the prenatal specialist to recommend induced labor and immediate delivery.
The delivery went well, but Bailey was born in congestive heart failure and placed on life support in the intensive care unit of the children’s hospital. She remained there for one week until doctors believed she was stable enough to go home.
Over the next few months, doctors talked with Bailey’s parents about the need for corrective surgery to create a fourth chamber in Bailey’s heart to enable it to function properly. The cardiologist suggested Bailey may need a pacemaker as well because of her irregular heart rate, which indicated a problem with her heart’s electrical system. He recommended waiting three to four months to give Bailey a chance to grow and put on weight, which would enable her body to better handle the surgeries and the pacemaker, if needed.
Bailey’s parents took their new baby home with great trepidation. They watched her closely and were relieved when, at four months of age, doctors successfully built a wall to separate Bailey’s common atria into two. Further testing showed she would also need a pacemaker because the electrical system of Bailey’s heart was damaged. Her heart would not be able to signal the four chambers to contract or beat as needed to maintain a proper heart rate. A week later, Bailey received her first Medtronic pacemaker.
Since then, Bailey has lived a virtually normal life. “People have a hard time believing I have a pacemaker because I’m so young and, in most cases, they’ve seen me competing in a triathlon, playing softball, or hiking. People are amazed to learn you can have a heart device and still live an active life.”
For Bailey, having a pacemaker has allowed her to take part in many activities throughout her life, including running, playing tennis, and competitive bowling. During her high school years, she even participated in the marching band.
“Because I’ve always been able to do everything my friends do, the fact that I have a pacemaker has never been an issue.”
Bailey earned a college degree in history, and is now studying to be a paralegal. Amazingly, she also works part-time as an EKG (electrocardiogram) technician at the very clinic where her heart condition was discovered.
As an EKG technician, Bailey is able to talk with other young people whose doctors have recommended heart devices. “I tell them that a heart device doesn’t necessarily hinder your life.” For Bailey it created more opportunity for her to be active and experience life. Results may vary and you need to talk to your doctor about the benefits and risks of pacemaker therapy.
For Bailey’s parents, the pacemaker has given Bailey the opportunity to live a full life. “It’s been amazing to watch her grow and develop so beautifully. We are truly blessed.”
This story reflects one person's experience. Not every person will receive the same results. Talk to your doctor about your treatment options.