My journey starts in my early teens when I became aware of my heart pounding in my chest, my heart racing, my throat constricting like hands that had wrapped themselves like a tight vine around my neck. I would feel faint like I would collapse and unable to catch my breath. It felt like I was going to suddenly die. I was quite sporty, so it was distressing when this would happen unexpectedly when I was playing hockey, running or swimming. It would come on suddenly and it would be very frightening and often it would last for several minutes. When I tried to discuss this with others, it was dismissed as anxiety, it was clearly all in my head. This continued well into my early twenties when it became far more distressing and longer with each episode. I felt ashamed as anxiety back then was seen as a terrible weakness so I tried to hide it as best as I could and bravely carry on. Gradually, over the following years, as the episodes occurred more often, more frightening; I would find myself in an ambulance, many times in A&E where I was monitored and then sent home, feeling ashamed with no understanding of what was happening to me. I began to feel like I was broken and damaged. Again, always sent off on my way that everything was fine and that it was anxiety causing these episodes, though in my heart I knew it wasn’t. Eventually, one year as a student living in Oxford, I found a good GP who started to listen to me. Several conditions were suggested (asthma was one) but no outcome was achieved, though this GP did try to help me for which I am grateful. I remember one night my sister came to stay and I had an episode that was so frightening, especially to my sister witnessing it, that we called an out of hours GP who told me there was nothing wrong with me and I was a basically an attention seeker and a time waster. It was a very low moment for me. A few days later, I had several episodes, the worst it had ever been, and I found myself almost crawling back to my home. I remember holding onto a wall along Walton Street in Oxford. I eventually made it to the GP surgery with collapsing where I told the receptionist I was finally experiencing an episode for the GP to witness. There was a flurry of activity, and the GP came out to immediately assess me and within minutes I was in A&E at the John Radcliffe Hospital. Unfortunately, again once at hospital my heart returned to a normal heart rate. I was assessed for several hours and again, almost discharged until, by a stroke of luck, the Cardiology Professor was leaving to go home, and my case just happened to catch his eye. Within minutes of the Professor consulting me, the ward become a very busy environment and I had to sign a paper to confirm that I was happy to undergo a procedure that may have a positive outcome for myself, but also potentially the opposite.
A drug called Adenosine was administered, which is usually used to slow a fast heart rhythm, but in this case, as my resting heart rate was not very elevated and I was not having any tachycardia, this procedure was for diagnostic purposes. I was told that the drug would be administered through a canula in my arm and would immediately slow any electrical activity in my heart to almost a stop. (Adenosine blocks electrical signals through the atrio-ventricular (AV) node. This means signals cannot travel from the top to the bottom chambers of the heart for a few seconds, until the drug effects wear off.) I remember the first round of the drug being given to me and seeing the huge ECG monitor as my heart became a flatter line on the screen. Another round of Adenosine was given and at this point I felt the full impact of the drug being given and passed out, awakening to sounds akin to a win in a rugby/football match. There were cheers and as the Professor tore off the ECG sheet, slapping of hands on shoulders, whoops of joy and shouts of “We got it!”. Delights from everyone whilst the heart started beating regularly again and I become more conscious. I heard the words that these medical moments are rare and was told that I had something called WPW – Wolff Parkinson White Syndrome. Finally, after all these years there were people on my side, united in this discovery and the years of research with a good team at the JRH. I was booked in for an emergency catheter ablation where a wire with a camera is sent up through an artery from the groin into the heart while drugs were administered to monitor the heart’s electrical activity. In addition to finding the hidden accessory pathway in my heart, these Specialists found that I had another arrhythmia occurring in the lower chambers of my heart that also caused my heart to get to the dangerous heart rates I had been experiencing. I am forever grateful for the team at the JRH especially Dr Yaver Bashir who led the team that day and kept me safe. I also received an unexpected written apology from the GP at my local surgery for missing this. He was very apologetic, as young hearts were not considered to be at risk of issues such as these. There was little knowledge 23 years ago about these matters. That is why CRY is an essential charity and I would also like to applaud the work that CRY does in helping families and young adults and the wonderful support that they give and the research and education (to medical staff especially) they continue to do. Their efforts are immeasurable. I continue to support this charity as not only is it close to my heart, but it will help many people like myself. Thank you.