Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Wolff Parkinson White Syndrome

Preface: this is yet another post of me telling what I know about a health issue, which is not to be confused with someone who would actually know what they're talking about. Also, this happened over 5 years ago, so my details are a little sketchy. ;)

In talking to my friend Kristina today, I realized this is a family story that I should publish here, in case anyone can glean some wisdom from it, and so our boys will know what runs in their family.

I'm talking about Wolff Parkinson White Syndrome. Let me explain...

Chuck's mom has a heart arrhythmia. She even wore a heart monitor to try to catch it for a month once, but no real diagnosis was made other than she had a heart arrhythmia (no idea on what type, what causes it, etc). But heart arrhythmias are usually not a cause for concern, just an annoyance that happens when your heart beats at a weird pace, or rapidly.

So when Chuck was in high school, as he would exert himself in sports, his heart would begin to race. It often took awhile to get it to stop, even after slowing down and cooling down. This then gave him reason to back off from doing too much physically.

After we married, he woke up one morning and his heart was racing. He'd only sat up in bed. Obviously not a reason for your heart to race... So it alarmed us enough that we went to the dr, who sent us to a cardiologist, who did lots of tests on his heart, and deemed that he had super ventricular tachycardia. Basically, just an arrhythmia. No big deal, right? The cardiologist did say- next time it happens, go to your family dr and have him get it on the EKG so we can see it better.

A few years later, we get the happy news that we're pregnant! And the next morning...Chuck wakes up with his heart racing again. We head over to the family doctor, who says not to worry, but here's some meds in case it doesn't stop, and if all else fails, go to the ER to get meds thru IV. We go home, Chuck takes the medication (it's been over an hour now of a higher than usual heart rate...), and tells me he'll be fine, he is just going to take a nap, and so I go to work. He wakes from that nap with it still racing, so he goes to his sister Melanie's house and watches a movie with her and her husband.

Halfway thru the movie, Melanie sees that Chuck is still pale in complexion, and she decides it's time to take him to the ER. I meet them there, and at this point his heart's been racing for 9 hours straight. The nurses tries to get a pulse on him, and seeing how erratic it is, they rush him in and do all sorts of crazy things to try to get his heart rate down. It was in the 250s and sometimes spiking to 350 (if I remember right). Seeing him hooked up to everything and all the rushing, I began to cry. The ER doctor turns to me and says, "Don't cry, he'll be ok." I tell her how I'm emotional because I'm pregnant, and she says, "Me too." LOL Anyhow, they kept warning me that if they can't get it down, they'll have to shock him as a last resort. Sorta like you see on movies, the atrial defibrilator, but they put a patch on his chest, and another on his back.

Here was one miracle... The ER dr was on the phone with 2 different cardiologists, asking them what to do. One recommended a certain medication, which she ended up deciding against. Come to find out, due to what his condition (which they hadn't figured out yet), that medication would've killed him. We are so thankful for God's intervention!

So, once his heart rate starts jumping even higher, they rush him into another room to shock him. They gave him anesthesia but it hadn't even kicked in yet. They gave him 100 jules, which he remembers as being the most painful thing ever. He said every muscle in his body tightened, and he could hear himself screaming, then he blacked out. The 100 jules didn't do it, so they vamp it up to 200 jules. They said if this didn't work, there would be nothing else they could do. By God's mercy, it worked. Chuck's heart finally fell back into a normal rhythm!

Shortly after, a cardiologist visited us in the ER. Here's the recap of what he said:

This is the only type of arrhythmia that will cause a cardiologist to come to the ER. It's the only type that could kill. Most often it strikes even stronger than it did in Chuck's case, and the person dies before anyone can figure out what's happening. He said that it was missed when he'd been checked over before because it is so rare. It's called Wolff Parkinson White, after the doctors who discovered it.

What happens is this: around your heart you have receptors, which send electic impulses, telling your heart when to contract (beat). Chuck was born with an extra receptor. Think of it like a little hair and it sometimes crossed with the other hairs, causing the heart to be confused and beat like crazy trying to figure out what to do. So, this would often happen when he would exert energy because it's already beating fast, so it was easier for the hairs to get crossed. However, for everyone who has this, there comes a time when it happens even when it's at a resting rate, and no matter what triggers it, it can cause a person to die.

Another miracle: remember that nap Chuck took that morning? Most often going to sleep is the worse thing you can do - it causes it to get worse. Talk about protection from God.

So, what to do? The dr said that while there is medication to keep this from happening, because Chuck was young (he was 27 at the time), it'd be better to surgically remove the receptor, "the hair", rather than be on meds with side effects for the rest of his life. The hospital kept him overnight to observe him (since he'd been shocked), and the next morning he underwent surgery. It took 3.5 hours, and the dr went in thru his groin orthoscopically, and ablated (burned off) that extra receptor. Recovery wise, he had to lay still for the rest of the day, which was quite uncomfortable, but he went home the next day, and all was well.

Another of Chuck's sisters, Mitsi, 8 months pregnant with her second child, jumped on a plane from Kentucky to join us when everything started happening. Her love touched us deeply.

When it was all over, the dr said, "You now have no excuse to not play with your baby that is coming." 3 boys later, I can't tell you how thankful I am for that!

A week later, we sat together reading a newspaper and read an obituary of a 32 year old man who suddenly died of an "unknown heart arrhythmia." And we praised God that He spared Chuck. Sometimes when you hear of youth, often males, who fall dead on the sports field - it may be due to Wolff Parkinson White.

About 6 months later, I crossed paths again with that ER doctor, and was able to tell her of her wise choice with the medication, and thank her. She said she remembered that day very well, that she'd never seen a case like Chuck's, and how it really scared her to see a heart rate jump up like his did. She and I were both were "great with child" and it was so neat to celebrate our bright futures ahead.


Anonymous said...

Thanks Angie! We will definitely get this checked out. and thank God for saving Chuck! :)


Mells said...

Wow, God is SO GOOD! I remember you telling me about that scary time in your life. Thanks for sharing it on the blog... it's always good to know about. God bless you! Love, Melony