Meet Shane

Oh can't be happening now. This is a big game...ok calm will stop soon. Deep always stops...relax. Nothing helped. I can't even count the number of times I just played through what felt like a heart attack.

My CHD was a severe form of Tachycardia, one of the most severe ever seen at Mayo Health Systems. A recent Mayo article notes that tachycardia (tak-ih-KAHR-dee-uh), is a condition where the heart rate in either or both of the upper and lower heart chambers is increased. Heart rate is controlled by electrical signals sent across the heart and tachycardia occurs when an abnormality in the heart produces rapid electrical signals, which can increase the risk of stroke or cause sudden cardiac arrest and even death.

My defect did not show up until I was fourteen years old. At that time I was ten foot tall and bullet proof. What teenage boy isn't? I played three sports, led an extremely active lifestyle, and I rarely even mentioned my heart problems to anyone.

Each time an attack would happen I would just play or live through it. The attacks seemed to have no rhyme or reason; it could happen in the middle of playing in a football game or while I was just sitting in church. My attacks would last anywhere from a few minutes to a whole week straight (yep a week!). My heart would beat so hard you could actually see my shirt bouncing. One of the times I went to the emergency room for an attack, my heart rate was consistently measured over 300 beats per minute. My head, neck and left arm would always become weak and pained and I would have to immediately remove my glasses, hat, etc. Just thinking about these times brings up so many bad feelings and memories.

In 2003 I had been living with Tachycardia for over 12 years. I was extremely overweight, a heavy smoker, and an occasional heavy drinker. It was then that I recognized that I needed to make major life changes to stay alive. I began a vigorous workout and diet program, and I saw immediate and life changing results.

Then came that pesky Tachycardia again. I did not let it affect the length of my workouts, but it certainly made them more difficult. The attacks also scared the people I worked out with to the point that they called an ambulance during one attack. By the time the ambulance arrived, the attack had stopped and my vitals were normal. Have you ever taken your rough running car to the shop only to have it run perfectly? That is how I felt. I made the decision then and there that I would pursue a resolution to this problem. I made an appointment for the next week and I was on my way to a better heart...I hoped.

During the months that followed I had many preliminary appointments leading up to a planned surgery. I continued to workout very hard and expected to be better than normal soon...then it happened. At twenty-six years old, I had a heart attack as a direct result of my Tachycardia.

I had done a two hour early morning cross training workout at our local YMCA and as I showered my heart began to race. I calmly dressed for work, expecting it to stop anytime. I drove to the store to pick up my normal breakfast, still expecting it to stop very soon. I drove to work, sat at my desk, and I thought, "this hurts more than normal, I hope it will stop soon." A co-worker noticed me struggling at my desk and asked if I was ok, my response was a tearful "no." I was really scared. The co-worker took me to the hospital and I was rushed into the emergency room. I was in cardiac arrest and I was hyperventilating. I was turning blue and I remember my mouth was over on one side of my face. I had no control over any part of my body. I knew I was going to die. I spent almost three days in intensive care and upon being released, I went right back to my normal workouts. I still consider myself very lucky to have even made it my surgery two weeks later.

During all of my pre-op consultations I was told that my surgery would take about two hours. I was told that I would be kept awake, but sedated. When I was wheeled into the room for surgery there were a lot more people than I anticipated and the surgery ended up taking about seven hours. I was heavily sedated and each time the doctor thought they had my problem fixed they would wake me up and try to make my heart race. It seemed as though they would never get it right, but they persisted and were finally satisfied that my problem was resolved.

For a few days after the surgery I was very weak. I could not believe that a surgery under local anesthesia using angioplasty, or catheter-type tubes, would be so draining to my body. Later I was told that I actually recovered quickly and the reason was because I was in excellent condition. Thinking back, I thought it was the end of the world that I couldn't do anything for a few days. I know now that most people who have this type of surgery, or similar exploration, are down for weeks.

I know that I am an extremely lucky person. I was lucky to have the doctors I had repair my heart and I have been fortunate to have zero episodes since the repair. This is just one of the times in my life that there was only one set of footprints in the sand. I have a wonderful wife Nicole, six healthy boys, and I am in good health. I have regular check ups and my blood pressure and heart rate are excellent.

Recently I met someone whose son suffers from a CHD. That person helped me to understand how lucky I really am. All of those times that I just played through my attacks in sports, all of those times that I decided it would just go away, all of those times that no one would listen to me or help me... I was lucky I didn’t die. I am here only by the grace of God. This is a story of success. There are cautionary tales obviously interlaced within my story, but overall my story has an extremely happy ending. I wish that this ending was the same for all families that have children or loved ones that suffer with a CHD.

My belief is that a lot more people could be helped by being aware and taking every CHD seriously. I remember having doctor’s appointments when I was younger where they dismissed my Tachycardia. They told me that it was something I was going to grow out of. Well, I did not just grow out of it and it almost killed me. My advice to others like me is to take every episode seriously, follow up on every possible issue, and most importantly, never dismiss a potential problem. Not every CHD story has a happy ending, but through early detection and action, every ending has potential. I'll take potential every time.