It happened to me on March 14, 2017.
During a routine visit, my primary physician pressed her stethoscope against my chest and listened. Boom... boom, boom, boom... boom... boom, boom... boom.......... boom. I wasn’t symptomatic, yet my heart rate was irregular.
“You’re going to the Emergency Room,” she said. Hours of fluids and unpronounceable medications later, an ambulance shipped me to Atrium in Middletown.
My heart was in atrial fibrillation (aka, afib). It’s the persistent variety. No amount of medications or patience will correct it. Medical intervention is needed each time. If it’s not addressed, blood starts pooling in chambers and clots form.
One clot could cause a blockage and lead to a stroke. Blood thinners are necessary, sometimes two. Though there is a list of causes and triggers (such as alcohol, coffee, stress, sleep apnea), no one has been able to pinpoint why irregular electrical impulses are sent to the heart — after being fine for 38 years — causing it to fall out of rhythm.
A cardiologist at Atrium sent me to a cold room with boring white walls, beeps, and computer screens, where I was given more fluids and sprays to numb my throat. After a few inhales from anesthesia, I was knocked out.
My doctor, who placed pads on my chest and back, zapped my heart back into sinus rhythm and all was well. Except it wasn’t, as I’ve undergone the same cardioversion procedure two additional times in October and December.
Why am I bringing this up?
As has been widely reported, Bengals offensive tackle Jake Fisher has been enduring his own atrial fibrillation story.
Fisher was hospitalized midway through Cincinnati’s game against Jacksonville, with the team citing an “illness,” and placed on Injured Reserve soon after. His season was done.
Fisher underwent a procedure called cardiac ablation, which is designed to scar tissue within the heart to disrupt faulty electrical signals. How it works is this: Doctors send a catheter into the heart, through your groin, and either using heat or freezing techniques, scar/destroy tissue in the pulmonary veins that connects to your heart. The goal is to prevent faulty electrical signals from using tissue that causes atrial fibrillation.
If you’re interested, here’s a video that visually breaks down the procedure. Fisher spoke with the mothership about the experience back in February.
After three failed cardioversions in 2017, I had the same cardiac ablation procedure done on May 3. Recovery was difficult — chest tightness, laborous breathing, plentiful migraines, all while taking it easy while your surgical incisions around your groin heal. After about a week, you start feeling better and three months later, no problems.
It’s important to note that cardiac ablation is not a cure. My own electrophysiologist (heart-rhythm specialist), said that there’s a 60-80% chance this will work. Many have a second procedure done, which works 90% of the time. You still have to be mindful of the triggers and possible causes. Sleep apnea is one. Diet could be another. Alcohol? Yep.
And I’m pulling hard for his success.
Prior to this shared experience, I was indifferent who played where; I just wanted the best combination that helps the team win. Bengals for life!
Now I want Fisher to start every game at right tackle, become a Pro Bowler, be mentioned as an All-Pro and start at Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta. #TeamFisher.
If you suspect you have arrhythmia, get it checked out immediately. Not only are you at a significant risk for a stroke, you’re quality of life will vastly improve when you’re heart resumes normal rhythm.