AFib Free – Nancy’s Heart is now a Prairie Work of Art
Much like an artist’s work, fixing a heart rhythm issue can be delicate and tedious. Former art teacher Nancy Herbert’s fast heartbeat might have been a fit for her active lifestyle; but, it became a fragile scenario that would take great tenacity.
Her story begins in 2010 when she developed an unusually high heart rate. While working out at Curves, she noticed her favorite stair stepper reporting an astounding 190 beats per minute. “I’m one of those people that was in AFib (atrial fibrillation) and didn’t know it,” said Nancy. She would occasionally feel her heart hammering, and lived with it for many years. “I simply felt what I called ‘green’ at times.”
Congestive heart failure as a result of AFib
That May in the middle of the night, she woke with a resting heart rate of 170. “My dad had heart failure as a result of arrhythmias, so I had an idea of the symptoms.” It was time to visit the Emergency Room. She was hospitalized at Prairie Heart Institute Memorial Hospital of Carbondale with congestive heart failure as a result of AFib.
AFib (Atrial Fibrillation)
The condition involves the upper chambers of the heart (the atria), which beat in a rapid, uncoordinated and disorganized fashion. The result is a very irregular and frequently fast heart rate. The heart’s atria actually quiver instead of beating effectively, eventually leading to a damaged heart.
Nancy faced options including oral medication, cardioversion (shocking the heart into rhythm), pacemaker or the newer treatment of cardiac ablation, which in 2010 was not available in southern Illinois.
The solution at the time was two cardioversions and a strong heart medication, which slowed her heart rate. However, her irregular heartbeat also required a pacemaker implant. “Every three months I was being closely monitored,” said Herbert. This was her routine for the next several years. “I would always bargain with Dr. Falcone to get off the meds.” If I went off, the AFib would always come back.”
An Arrhythmia Specialist Offers a New Solution
In July of 2014, Prairie added Dr. Daniel Correa de Sa, a board certified cardiac electrophysiologist who specializes in AFib and other heart arrhythmias. At Nancy’s next appointment, Falcone recommended a visit with him. “She told me just to talk with him and see. No pressure, but she thought I might now be ready to consider a cardiac ablation.”
His first recommendation was a sleep study at St. Joseph Sleep Disorders Center. “I thought, ‘thank you very much, I don’t have sleep apnea.’” Nancy said. “But I did. I had it bad.” So after getting used to a CPAP, Dr. Correa de Sa thought she would be an excellent candidate for cardiac ablation and set the wheels in motion. “Nancy was on a very strong medicine for AFib and one that cannot be used for a lifetime, or it could become toxic,” said Correa de Sa. “It was time to try something new.”
What is a Cardiac Ablation?
AFib is a “misfiring” of the electrical pathways of the heart. Cardiac ablation involves attempting to divert the pathways in the right direction.
It Took a Village
Meanwhile Nancy’s husband had recently been diagnosed with a benign brain tumor and was about to embark on his own medical journey. Nancy’s plan: get her AFib taken care of so she could be ready to take care of her husband. Unfortunately, that did not happen.
On February 26, Nancy endured what was a six to eight hour tricky, cardiac ablation procedure. Unfortunately, the recovery would not be as quick and easy as she had hoped. “Ablation is not a walk in the park,” said Correa de Sa. “It often takes a long recovery. We are keeping a close eye on the patient, having several follow-up appointments to manage things.” Nancy’s recovery was indeed troubled with issues relating to congestive heart failure and complicated with pneumonia.
By March 17, having recovered from her pneumonia, she was ready to attend her husband’s second radiation treatment in St. Louis. But before she left town, a follow-up appointment with Dr. Correa de Sa was in order. To her disappointment, Nancy’s AFib was intent on keeping her down. She required hospitalization and couldn’t be with her husband.
Nancy’s Prairie Heart Team
“It was such a difficult and emotional time. I wanted to be there for my husband and he wanted to be there for me.” That’s when Nancy realized the tremendous support of her local medical family. “Prairie nurse, Kim Hankins, gave assurance to my sons to go be with their dad. Kim and the team would be taking care of me.” She personally took Nancy to the hospital for check-in. “It really takes a village.”
This time the option was a new medication for the AFib requiring a hospital stay for constant monitoring. “They took such good care of me and knew the whole situation.” Sadly, the trial failed.
“By this time I was starting to feel like Dr. Correa de Sa was my son. He was so sweet and always asking about my husband, too.” Options being few, Nancy conferred with Correa de Sa on his best recommendation. It would be another cardiac ablation.
According to Correa de Sa, people with persistent AFib have about a 40 percent chance of needing a second ablation. “For Nancy, it was just impossible to do all we need to do the first time.”
Nancy had another ablation on March 23. It’s been extremely successful!
“People around here think you need to go to St. Louis. I am living testimony that you don’t have to leave to get the best care.” For as many times as she had to go back, she found comfort that local professionals were only 20 minutes and phone call away. “I was in the hospital six times and never had a bad episode. I had their phone numbers. I can’t imagine getting that kind of treatment in a big city.”
No longer on medication, today Nancy‘s back to her active lifestyle walking six miles a day and swimming laps in her pool. “I keep count. Over the summer I swam a mile each day.” And she’s back to her art projects; making jewelry, painting and plans to get back to some stain glass work.