This is NOT a sob story, just an insight into why I feel so grateful to be where I am, doing what I’m doing and why I am my own motivation.
I don’t really know where to start on this. Those of you who know me personally already know some of the troubles I’ve had with my heart, but those of you who don’t know me personally, would never know anything had been wrong and why I feel so lucky to be in the position I’m in.
When I was fourteen I remember being in rehearsals at my dance school and I’d recently had a chest, nose and throat infection so was really run down. I was crouched behind a prop bar waiting for my cue and I felt something very strange happening in my chest. I had never experienced it before, it was a hard thumping but racing feeling in my heart. I knew it wasn’t right so I sat out for a bit. I also have sports induced asthma so I think we thought it had something to do with that especially since I hadn’t been well and rehearsals were intense in the lead up to our show.
After that it was a series of doctors appointments and hospital visits to try and find out what was going on in that heart of mine. I had ECG after ECG and ultrasounds on my chest trying to catch this pesky palpitation. ECG stands for Echo Cardiogram and is a way of checking the rhythms in your heart and how it’s beating. So you lay there with a series of tabs on your chest around your heart, one or two on your wrists and your ankles too. It then sends signals though to print the activity of your heart, any unusual rhythms and spikes will usually show up here. After I first experienced the palpitations they happened quite sporadically but often enough for it to be an issue. Unfortunately none of these episodes happened while I was in hospital or the doctors. As it goes, what I had goes undetected on ECGs and Ultrasounds unless it is actually palpitating right there and then. So after a few months of appointments, check ups and tests I was discharged and accused of making it all up. Tell me now why a healthy fourteen year old girl would make this stuff up, or where I’d have started in making it all up?!
What did the palpitations feel like?
When my heart would palpitate it would feel like it was trying really hard to try and escape from my chest with great force and speed! If you were to hug me while it was happening you’d feel it too. If you were around me while it was happening you’d see my whole body moving with it’s strong beat and even a pendant bouncing up and down on my chest. Sounds dramatic but its true.
How long would it last for?
These palpitations would last anywhere from 30mins to 3 hours! Whilst it happened it would feel like not enough blood was getting around my body, I would feel exhausted and keep going hot and cold the longer it went on. When it would drop back into it’s real rhythm I’d feel an almighty thump in my chest so hard it hurt, and then that would be it gone. Back to normal. Very occasionally that final beat back to normal would cause me to pass out very briefly, but that was very rare.
How often would it happen?
Unfortunately (for doctors) and fortunately (for me) it was a very unpredictable thing where it could go from happening daily to once a month. I obviously preferred when it happened less frequently. BUT this did mean that I couldn’t wear a 24hour monitor or guarantee it would happen when I had an appointment.
So this went on for seven years. Seven years knowing there was something wrong with my heart but not knowing what it was, what I could do to prevent it happening or to stop it happening when it did palpitate. It wasn’t until I was at University studying Dance that I decided to take it up again at the doctors. My course was very physical, 50 hours in the studio a week and I couldn’t afford for this to be getting in my way for my third and most important year of study. I visited my Doctors in Northampton and told them all about what had been happening and once again I had another ECG which showed nothing. Wonderful. No more answers.
Luckily a couple of months later I was in the doctors for something unrelated and I leaned over to grab a magazine in the waiting room and my heart started palpitating! I got someone to do an ECG right away and from then on we got answers and the story gets much better! Hallelujah!
Turns out I had a Supraventricular Tachycardia (SVT) – a mouthful right?! This meant that my heart was beating at 180 bpm for up to three hours at a time, no wonder it exhausted me!
So what is an SVT?
In my case I had an extra electrical connection in my heart which meant when the signal came it it would loop around on itself instead of passing through. It was something that I was born with but went undetected for fourteen years.
Treatment- What were my options?
I was told if it wasn’t particularly bothering my day to day life then it was safe enough to not treat so long as I was happy just to let it happen. Given that I was studying dance and wanted a very physical career, this wasn’t really an option for me I needed to get this sorted. I was presented with three options:
- Medication every day to prevent it from happening
- Carrying medication every day to stop it when it did happen
- Keyhole surgery to fix it
Since what I had wasn’t life threatening (no matter how scary each episode felt) it meant that I would have to pay for prescriptions and I did not fancy taking medication every day for the rest of my life- I was only 21 that’s a lot of medication. So I opted for the operation, it was low risk and for me the right choice.
I had my first operation in May 2012 at The Oxford Heart Centre based at the John Radcliffe Hospital. Luckily it was day surgery so in and out in the same day. The procedure was a few hours long and really fascinating for me but freaks some people out when I tell them. For the first part I had to be awake so that they could look at my heart in its natural state and try and trigger the faulty rhythm. I had general anaesthetic in my groin and they went in through the top of my right leg. They sent tubes up and into my heart, I had an x-ray machine over my chest and screens to my left. I could see an x-ray image of my heart with wires in- SO fascinating, I felt like the bionic woman!
During catheter ablation, a thin wire called a catheter is inserted into a vein in your upper leg or groin, before being guided to your heart by an electrophysiologist (a heart specialist who specialises in abnormal heartbeats and rhythms). When the wire reaches the heart, it records the electrical activity to pinpoint the precise location of the problem.
When the problem area is found, high-frequency radiowaves are transmitted to the catheter tip to destroy it, producing a small scar.
You’ll remain awake during this procedure, but will be given a sedative to relax you. Local anaesthetic will be used to numb the area where the catheter is inserted.
So there we go, small parts of my heart were burned away and I was hopefully fixed forever.
What happened next?
I took it easy and gradually started exercising again. A couple of months later I was back at summer camp teaching dance to international students and loving every minute undisturbed by heart trouble. They say that if after three months you haven’t experienced any more palpitations, it is generally safe to say that you won’t experience them any more. Almost four months to the date after my op I was having a little celebration in my head, happy to be back at University for my third year of intense study and rehearsals. I remember being in the studio with my tutor and my friend in a rehearsal that day and I’d spoken too soon, my heart started palpitating and I sank to the floor and just cried.
I went back to the doctors for my follow up ,who since hadn’t heard other wise assumed everything had gone well like we had. They were ready to roll off their schpeel on how happy they were that everything was great now but I had to stop them and tell them it hadn’t worked. I was one of the 5% of cases where I was going to need the procedure again. Since I was in my third year at University we decided I should go on the waiting list but not have the procedure again until after I had finished my course because I couldn’t afford to be taking time out.
I graduated from University in July 2013 and in the October I still hadn’t heard anything about an appointment or operation so I gave them a ring to find out that even though my records requested I be put on the waiting list, I actually had’t been. Luckily they got on the case really quickly and a week later I had an operation date for the November. I was SO happy to be having the operation again so soon!
The Second Operation
If my memory serves my right it was November 11th 2013 when I had the operation again. This time my operation wasn’t scheduled until 4pm so it was an overnight stay for me and given that it was only the second time I’d ever needed anything treated in hospital like this, it was quite scary. Even though I was 22 I not scared to admit that. This time they went through both legs and up to my heart, they had some trouble finding the dodgy rhythm so naturally I cried the whole way through but I had a lovely nurse next to me singing to me through the procedure and another nurse talking to me trying to calm me down and take my mind off it a little. It was okay they found the problem and operated as before burning away the extra tissue that shouldn’t have been there. It wasn’t until afterwards they the lovely surgeon actually told me that they had had to stop the operation a tiny bit early because if they had have continued to burn away any more tissue, I would have needed a pacemaker at 22 years old. Crazy right, but I was totally okay with that since he said he was happy with the work they had done and should now hopefully be fixed. I took a little longer to recover this time, partly because I could only shuffle around as they’d gone in through both legs- watching me shuffle around the house was quite entertaining.
The Nurses keeping things light on the ward ☺️
I honestly cannot thank my parents and sister enough through the whole process, from running me around to appointments, to being by my bedside during the operations, to having to do everything for me at home afterwards. For a couple of weeks I wasn’t allowed to lift anything heavier than a cup of tea (great for me!) haha so it meant there was more for them to do. So THANK YOU!
It is now January 2016 and I can honestly say I haven’t had any more heart trouble since! It may have taken 22 years for it to present itself and then be fixed but thank goodness it is fixed and I can now do anything and everything!
Celebratory Afternoon Tea with Mum after the all clear
This is why I feel so thankful and grateful for being able to train how I am, and for what I am training for. I am pretty sure that anybody who knew me as a teenager/ student would never have thought I’d be training to compete as a fitness model. I certainly didn’t think I would be.
So to anyone who has helped me along the way and /or is helping me achieve this dream of mine, I simply cannot thank you enough. The support I have received so far is overwhelming but I am truly grateful and still have a long way to go. All soppiness aside though, this is exciting right?! There’s no stopping me now!
There we have it, this is all the big reason why I am so proud of my progress and what I am achieving. Thank you for reading and getting to know me a little bit better!