“He felt like his heart was jumping out of his chest”
Midway through his sixth grade year, whenever Ethan was playing a sport he would feel like his heart was “jumping out of his chest”. An initial trip to the cardiologist did not find anything of concern; however, Ethan’s symptoms continued and were now accompanied with constant headaches and dizziness. This time, Ethan was diagnosed with POTS, Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia syndrome. With POTS, the body does not control blood pressure or heart rate as it should after one stands up; for a brief time, enough blood may not be making its way to the brain, causing feelings of dizziness and light-headedness. It can also cause one to faint. Ethan was prescribed beta-blockers to keep his heart rate down, but the symptoms continued.
A cardiologist suggested a cardiac ablation, a procedure that corrects heart rhythm problems (arrhythmias). Ablation uses catheters inserted through a vein in the groin and threaded to the heart to correct the structural problems causing the arrhythmias. It works by scarring or destroying tissue in the heart that trigger an abnormal heart rhythm. Complications include puncturing the heart, blood clots in the legs or lungs, stroke or heart attack, and damaging the heart valves or electrical system. The first attempt at the cardiac ablation failed, but the second time it was successful. Ethan’s doctor discovered a phrenic nerve was blocking a section of his heart, and he was able to fix the obstruction as well as modify his sinus node, the heart’s natural pacemaker.
Ethan went back to school after his second surgery, but his symptoms slowly returned. He was hooked up to four different heart monitors, and from his cardiac activity, they determined that he suffered from Sick Sinus Syndrome (SSS). SSS is a group of heart rhythm problems in which the sinus node doesn’t work properly. Ethan began taking eight different medications six times a day to treat his illness, but he continued to display the symptoms of SSS as his heart rate got progressively slower and even paused completely. Ethan had an emergency pacemaker put in to regulate the rhythm of his heart. Now, his pacemaker does 60 percent of the work for his heart.
Due to the severity of his illnesses, frequent hospitalizations, and surgeries, Ethan missed years of schooling. He is in the process of adjusting to life with a pacemaker and the restrictions that accompany it. Ethan’s illnesses took a drastic emotional toll on him. The former athlete’s health gives him a lot of anxiety, and he only feels safe when he isn’t too active. He developed a love of technology and is very tech savvy as a result, retreating into a world of computer coding, video games, and movies. Ethan is a big movie buff with a well-developed sense of humor.