A-Fib … Not a Death Sentence

Rosalie Ungar is the author of IN A HEARTBEAT: The Ups & Downs of Life with Atrial Fib. This post was first published on March 10, 2018.


By guest blogger Lisa Eliason

Lisa Eliason has been a guest blogger here twice. Her blogs have attracted readers in all phases of A-Fib. Lisa’s heart problems, anxieties and solutions have mirrored mine. Maybe they will help you overcome yours. Here is her latest.


I was visiting my sister-in-law the first time I had an A-Fib episode. I said my good nights and retired to the bedroom. I was in bed for a few minutes when my heart started to race. I was alone and I knew exactly what was happening. I was experiencing atrial fibrillation.

My mother’s sister, whom I follow very closely genetically, had A-Fib and I had heard her talk of it. I debated whether to call my husband or wake my sister-in-law. I was scared. Finally I fell asleep repeating my childhood prayer, ‘If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.’

I awoke in the morning with no irregular heart beat that I could feel. I was only 57 years old.

Over the next several months I would experience more episodes. My family doctor thought stress was the culprit and wanted to prescribe anti-anxiety medication. During a minor surgery my heart started to race and the surgery was aborted. I awoke to the surgeon looking ashen and nurses frantically awaiting a cardiologist.

Over the next several months I saw numerous specialists and wore a Holter Heart Monitor but it didn’t catch the A-Fib episodes. Many times the episodes came at night when my husband was traveling for work. It was during those times that I was the most terrified and sure that this was a death sentence.

I repeated this to my aunt who assured me I was not going to die and recommended an electrophysiologist at Ross Heart Hospital, Dr. John Hummel. Dr. Hummel is the rock star of electrophysiologists. On my first visit he outlined two plans of action: medication to slow the heart rate or heart ablation surgery. I first chose the medication and at times my heart rate slowed to 35 beats per minute. On a subsequent visit I had a loop recorder surgically implanted to catch the A-Fib episodes, then decided on heart ablation surgery. The surgery was a success and I have been A-Fib free for three years.

The key to my success was knowledge. Knowledge is power. I studied A-Fib on my own and read blogs just like this. Perhaps the most important part of the journey was talking to someone else experiencing A-Fib and being assured that A-Fib was not the death sentence I thought it to be.


Thanks Lisa. Your information is so important.

You can also read IN A HEARTBEAT: The Ups & Downs of Life with Atrial Fib on audio books at Audible.com, Amazon.com or in paperback available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or ebook from Kindle, Nook, iTunes or Kobo. Just click here or on one of the icons below.

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A-Fib…Is Age a Factor?

Rosalie Ungar is the author of IN A HEARTBEAT: The Ups & Downs of Life with Atrial Fib. This post was first published on August 14, 2017.


Can A-fib be an isolated incident, a sporadic episode or chronic?

 

Tomorrow I’ll be 80! I never thought I’d live this long, especially with all the health problems I’ve had since I was 15. Yet, I am better in every way than I was at 60. I judge life in decades. My 70s has been the best.

 

My first recognizable A-fib incident happened when I was 43, young by my standards. The next one was 2 years later. Both discoveries were accidental. I didn’t feel any of it until the instructor in an exercise class told us to take our pulse. I couldn’t find mine. The next time was in a doctor’s office for something unrelated. The 3rd time, almost a year later, I had what I thought were heart palpitations. All were A-fib.

 

That began the journey of dealing with A-fib for the next 30 years. Sometimes I could feel it in my pulse with beats going fast then slow then fluttering. Not able to get a count especially when it fluttered, I’d give up and try again a few minutes later. That routine went on for varied amounts of time…sometimes a couple of hours or a day or 2 days. I got scared.

 

It wasn’t until I was 69 that I had the cardiac ablation, then a relatively new procedure, that I’ve described and detailed in my memoir IN A HEARTBEAT: The Ups and Downs of Life with Atrial Fib.

 

I read that as people get to my age (80) many are candidates for A-fib. Then I read and hear that younger people are candidates too, men and women equally. Curing A-fib is less complicated than recovering or possibly dying from a stroke. Each day new developments make treatment easier and it is almost always successful.

 

At last I feel like a grown-up approaching the decade of my 80s. Finally I am learning to live in the here and now.

Learn more from my memoir IN A HEARTBEAT: The Ups & Downs of Life with Atrial Fib

In a Heartbeat is available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle formats.
The book is also available at Barnes & Noble as a paperback and Nook book.
Digital versions are available on Kobo and iTunes.
Also available as audio book from Amazon and Audible.

Get the book here!
In a Heartbeat on AmazonIn a Heartbeat on Barnes and NobleIn a Heartbeat on KoboIn a Heartbeat on iTunes
In a Heartbeat on iTunes

A-Fib: Repairing the brain after a stroke. Is it possible?

Rosalie Ungar is the author of IN A HEARTBEAT: The Ups & Downs of Life with Atrial Fib. This post was first published on August 27, 2017.


A few weeks ago an article on the front page of The Columbus Dispatch announced that a team of researchers at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center had discovered a way of turning skin cells into any type of cell that the body may need. Though testing has only been completed on mice and pigs, growing new cells and inserting them into the wounded bodies of animals has produced healed limbs within 7 to 14 days.

The process has amazing potential from regenerating injured limbs to repairing the brain after a stroke (strokes can be caused by a-fib). Even healing a damaged heart will be possible. Imagine placing a square silicon chip the size of a fingernail on the skin as it receives genetic information, then zapping it with an energy source. Bingo! Within a given amount of time that limb or even tissue is healed.

Think of it from a military position. Soldiers could be healed on the battlefield.

Human testing is required before approval can be given by the FDA (Food & Drug Administration). Those trials are expected to take place within a year and the technology could be widely used within 5 years. This study has been published in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.

Researchers who created the technology say it could even be used as a weapon against neurological diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

Dr. Chandan Sen, director of the Center for Regenerative Medicine & Cell-Based Therapies at OSU Wexner Medical Center says, “With this technology, we can convert skin cells into elements of any organ with just one touch.”

Damage to my heart from 2 heart attacks was reversed and healed. It took a much longer period of time. Read about it IN A HEARTBEAT: The Ups and Downs of Life with Atrial Fib, a patient’s story of surviving and thriving after 35 years of a-fib and related heart and health problems.

In a Heartbeat is available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle formats.
The book is also available at Barnes & Noble as a paperback and Nook book.
Digital versions are available on Kobo and iTunes.
Also available as audio book from Amazon and Audible.

Get the book here!
In a Heartbeat on AmazonIn a Heartbeat on Barnes and NobleIn a Heartbeat on KoboIn a Heartbeat on iTunes
In a Heartbeat on iTunes

A-Fib & Cardiac Ablation

Rosalie Ungar is the author of IN A HEARTBEAT: The Ups & Downs of Life with Atrial Fib. This post was first published on July 24, 2017.


Reading the sports in the Columbus Dispatch I saw where baseball’s Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona would not be managing the American League All-Star team following a procedure to correct his irregular heartbeat.

He had a cardiac ablation performed after doctors detected a heart arrhythmia resulting in dizziness, fatigue and rapid heartrate. He’s only 58. The article never mentioned the words ‘atrial fibrillation’. In less than a week after the ablation, Francona was back at work.

The point is that A-Fib can happen to anyone…even to a leading sports figure at the young age of 58. Most of the publicity around atrial fib indicates that it’s an “old age” heart problem. It’s not. Mine was diagnosed at age 43. Maybe it was going on before and I didn’t feel it.

It wasn’t until years later that the cardiac ablation became a possible cure. I had that procedure in 2007 and it worked just like Terry Francona’s appears to be working.

Statistics show that A-Fib happens to as many women as men. Figures also show that 70% of men diagnosed with it get treatment. Only 30% of women diagnosed seek treatment. Why is that?

Regardless of gender, A-Fib patients are candidates for a debilitating stroke or death.

The cardiac ablation is a minimally invasive procedure. See for yourself in my memoir IN A HEARTBEAT: The Ups & Downs of Life with Atrial Fib.

In a Heartbeat is available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle formats.
The book is also available at Barnes & Noble as a paperback and Nook book.
Digital versions are available on Kobo and iTunes.
Also available as audio book from Amazon and Audible.

Get the book here!
In a Heartbeat on AmazonIn a Heartbeat on Barnes and NobleIn a Heartbeat on KoboIn a Heartbeat on iTunes
In a Heartbeat on iTunes

ATRIAL FIB: DOWNPLAYING YOUR SYMPTOMS

Rosalie Ungar is the author of IN A HEARTBEAT: The Ups & Downs of Life with Atrial Fib. This post was first published on November 5, 2017.


Statistics show that 70% of men with atrial fib get treatment. Only 30% of women with atrial fib get treatment. Why is that?

My experience in talking to more than just a few women of various ages either with or without A-Fib or related problems say that they prefer not to know too much. Some do what the doctor says but don’t want to know the details and most don’t ask questions.

My theory is that the younger women are too busy. Some with families don’t feel they can take the time off to get treatment, some may feel invincible because their A-Fib comes and goes. I use to feel that way, mainly because I felt I couldn’t take the time off from work to get treatment. After all, I grew up in an era when options for women were limited. If a woman had a good job and could, if necessary, be replaced by a man, she was fearful that taking time off for a little known health problem could jeopardize her livelihood.

I am perplexed, however, as to why some women in their 70s and older don’t take A-Fib seriously. Many downplay their symptoms.

Men, on the other hand, are often diagnosed at a younger age. It is reported that gender symptoms vary and now treatment may vary between men and women. Could it be that women are the reason? We push men to take better care of themselves, sometimes at the expense of our own care. Wives often make an appointment with the doctor and just tell their husbands, “You have an appointment with the cardiologist and you have to go. I‘m going with you.” Subject closed.

Mother used to say, “Along with age comes aches and pains. Live with them and do what you have to do to feel better.” She was so set on not complaining, she’d say, “No one wants to hear you complain. Handle it.”

That was over 50 years ago. Ok Mom. I’m 80. I feel good. Atrial fibrillation is mostly an easy fix. I did it. Find out how in my memoir, IN A HEARTBEAT: The Ups & Downs of Life with Atrial Fib.

In a Heartbeat is available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle formats.
The book is also available at Barnes & Noble as a paperback and Nook book.
Digital versions are available on Kobo and iTunes.
Also available as audio book from Amazon and Audible.

Get the book here!
In a Heartbeat on AmazonIn a Heartbeat on Barnes and NobleIn a Heartbeat on KoboIn a Heartbeat on iTunes
In a Heartbeat on iTunes


A-Fib & Exercise – Part 2

Rosalie Ungar is the author of IN A HEARTBEAT: The Ups & Downs of Life with Atrial Fib. This post was first published on July 17, 2017.


Besides the heart attacks, pacemaker implants, and increasing bouts of atrial fib, I had full hip replacements on both hips. An attack of pancreatitis made gall bladder surgery necessary. Chronic thyroid problems flared up from time to time and cataracts in both eyes required cataract removal.

Medications including the blood thinner warfarin became more complicated and compatibility of the meds with each other needed my attention. Drug co-pays increased. Some drugs had to be taken before bed or first thing in the morning on an empty stomach 45 minutes before anything else, or 30 minutes before lying down, 2 hours after certain other drugs, never with pain killers or antacids or magnesium in any form. Heart meds are especially sensitive. My solutions? I have plastic oblong containers separated by initialed days of the week and by morning pills and evening pills. I put 3 weeks of meds together at one time. It takes about 45 minutes to do that, but besides scheduling and not forgetting any or wondering if I took something or not, it warns me when to reorder so as not to run out of anything especially on a holiday or if ordering by mail.

I discovered that I could not exercise on my own even if I joined a fitness center. I needed a physical trainer for several reasons:

  • I didn’t know what exercises to do.
  • If I had a trainer, I knew that I would show up for the session.
  • I knew that working with weights and equipment could be dangerous and a trainer prevents my getting hurt.
  • A PT isn’t expensive. Often less than many meds and prescriptions co-pays. Certainly less than a heart attack.

In the 15 years I’ve worked with trainers, John was the first for 6 years, then Paul for 6 years and Jim (current trainer) for 3 years. When I started out, I couldn’t do 1 push-up. Now I can do 100. I work out with 6 to 10 others, both men and women. I am, by far, the oldest. We do circuits working in small groups of 2 or 3, training 3 days per week for 45 minutes to an hour. The most difficult time of the workout is 15 minutes before it starts. That’s the time when one might cancel…too tired, too cold out, too hot, too lazy. Get over it.

Four years ago at yearly checkups with my electrophysiologist and my cardiologist, they each congratulated me for reversing all heart damage from both of my heart attacks. I was told that this is rare. The consensus of medical opinions was that it was a result of exercise, the best medication.

Learn more in my new memoir: IN A HEARTBEAT: The Ups & Downs of Life with Atrial Fib

In a Heartbeat is available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle formats.
The book is also available at Barnes & Noble as a paperback and Nook book.
Digital versions are available on Kobo and iTunes.
Also available as audio book from Amazon and Audible.

Get the book here!
In a Heartbeat on AmazonIn a Heartbeat on Barnes and NobleIn a Heartbeat on KoboIn a Heartbeat on iTunes
In a Heartbeat on iTunes


A-Fib & Exercise

Rosalie Ungar is the author of IN A HEARTBEAT: The Ups & Downs of Life with Atrial Fib. This post was first published on July 10, 2017.


After 2 heart attacks, 3 pacemakers, 4 husbands and 35 years of atrial fibrillation, I realized that the best medication is exercise.

Move the body! I grew up in the forties and fifties when playing outdoors was as important as eating and was more important than homework. Even in winter we played outdoors…sports and recess in school, sledding and snowball fights, even shoveling snow. In summer we played out of doors with our friends and explored everything, sometimes we played outside all day and into evening when our parents yelled at the kitchen door that it was time to come in for dinner. We were exhausted at night and slept well.

On rainy days we put on shows in the empty garage where our one car was kept and Dad had it at work. Or we played paper dolls in the house or on the porch. On hot summer days a parent would drop us off at the public swimming pool and we would stay in the water all afternoon between scheduled rest periods.

It was natural to walk and run wherever we were going, even to the bus stop. Sometimes we rode our bikes. That was until I had a car at age 16.

I started exercise walking in my forties getting up to 4 miles almost every day. It took an hour. I loved it…walking outside or on a treadmill. My HDL was over 50… a decent number for the high density lipoproteins. In 1980 I was diagnosed with atrial fib. That’s when I noticed it though it probably occurred sporadically for years before I felt it. I still walked on days it didn’t give me shortness of breath or tire me out.

In 2000 I had 2 heart attacks. The left anterior descending coronary artery was 50% blocked. The nickname for that artery is “the widow maker.” A few weeks later I had a robotic bypass. A year after that I married Ed. Two years after that I retired from my job. Exercise walking had given me lower body strength, but my upper body was weak.

READ NEXT WEEK’S BLOG TO FIND OUT HOW I REVERSED ALL DAMAGE FROM 2 HEART ATTACKS, ENDED ATRIAL FIB, AND NOW AT ALMOST 80 YEARS OLD I CAN DO 100 PUSH UPS, PLANKS, WEIGHTS, SPINNING BIKE AND MUCH MORE.  

Read more in my recent memoir: IN A HEARTBEAT: The Ups & Downs of Life with Atrial Fib

In a Heartbeat is available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle formats.
The book is also available at Barnes & Noble as a paperback and Nook book.
Digital versions are available on Kobo and iTunes.
Also available as audio book from Amazon and Audible.

Get the book here!
In a Heartbeat on AmazonIn a Heartbeat on Barnes and NobleIn a Heartbeat on KoboIn a Heartbeat on iTunes
In a Heartbeat on iTunes


A-Fib and Pacemakers – Part 2

Rosalie Ungar is the author of IN A HEARTBEAT: The Ups & Downs of Life with Atrial Fib. This post was first published on August 6, 2017.


Atrial fib is responsible for all 3 of my pacemakers. Each year, approximately 200,000 pacemakers are implanted in the U.S. in patients who derive a clear benefit from pacing therapy, according to the American College of Cardiology.

My first pacemaker was an emergency procedure because my heart stopped for several seconds after hip replacement surgery. Just before, a temporary pacemaker was installed to keep my heart rate steady during surgery. After the temporary pacemaker was removed I went into atrial fib. I awoke in ICU. The next day pacemaker # 1 was installed and my medical history changed…for the better.

  • My first pacemaker procedure was the longest because the 2 wires to connect the device to the heart had to be inserted, one in the right atrium and one in the right ventricle. A small incision was made just under the skin in the upper left chest to insert the pacemaker, about the size of a quarter. A technician from the device company (St. Jude) is always in the O.R. to hook up the wires to get it going. Most patients go home the same day but I was still recovering from hip surgery. Read details in Chapter 23 of IN A HEARTBEAT: The Ups & Downs of Life with Atrial Fib.

 

  • Eight years later the 2nd pacemaker was installed. The whole device was changed, not just battery. The original wires connected the new device. Updates occur as pacemakers improve and accomplish more. This 2nd device was able to store heart data. Battery life and A-Fib activity were checked every couple of months by phone or in the clinic for a more thorough analysis

 

  • Implantation of the 3rd pacemaker came 9 years later. Outpatient procedure took 3 hours including prep and recovery time. The original wires are still being used. Battery and A-Fib information is now recorded at a data center and checked through a wireless monitor the size of a 5 x 7 picture frame 6 feet from my bed. A small green light signals that all is well. If not, the light flashes and changes color. There’s a phone number in case I have questions.

More advanced pacemakers are already available, including wireless pacemakers and some that allow patients to have safe MRI tests. Without the pacemaker my heart rate is so low in the atrium that my pacemaker must work to pace me 100% of the time.

It’s probably keeping me alive. If it could make dinner, life would be perfect!

Learn more from my memoir IN A HEARTBEAT: The Ups & Downs of Life with Atrial Fib

In a Heartbeat is available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle formats.
The book is also available at Barnes & Noble as a paperback and Nook book.
Digital versions are available on Kobo and iTunes.
Also available as audio book from Amazon and Audible.

Get the book here!
In a Heartbeat on AmazonIn a Heartbeat on Barnes and NobleIn a Heartbeat on KoboIn a Heartbeat on iTunes
In a Heartbeat on iTunes


A-Fib and Pacemakers

Rosalie Ungar is the author of IN A HEARTBEAT: The Ups & Downs of Life with Atrial Fib. This post was first published on July 30, 2017.


Early in my battle with atrial fib my heartrate could go as high as 200 sporadic beats per minute. Doctors tried anti-arrhythmia drugs, none of which worked. Some caused more AFib, some had side effects causing joint pain or flu-like symptoms. My only protection against stroke was the blood thinner warfarin.

I asked my electrophysiologist, “Why not a pacemaker? Wouldn’t that make the rapid heartbeat slow down and regulate the heart?”

A pacemaker only adjusts the heart rate when it’s too slow, not when it is too fast. Most people don’t know that. I didn’t.

Two adjustments occurred to previous statements:

  • When an anti-arrhythmia drug was found to work for me, it did lower my heartrate, not only when I was experiencing atrial fib, but all of the time. So, my resting rate went from 52 beats per minute to 40. I was tired most of the time, but probably safer.
  • The pacemaker can go faster than its setting rate during exercise. My pacemaker is set at a resting rate of 60 beats per minute. It never goes lower. Since the cardiac ablation my heart rate only goes higher as I increase my level of activity. After a few minutes on the treadmill or the bike, it’s likely to go up to 100 steady beats until the exercise ends and my pulse goes back to a resting rate. It’s the amazing technology of today’s pacemakers.

Read next week’s blog for more about pacemakers and how I came to have 3 of them.

In a Heartbeat is available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle formats.
The book is also available at Barnes & Noble as a paperback and Nook book.
Digital versions are available on Kobo and iTunes.
Also available as audio book from Amazon and Audible.

Get the book here!
In a Heartbeat on AmazonIn a Heartbeat on Barnes and NobleIn a Heartbeat on KoboIn a Heartbeat on iTunes
In a Heartbeat on iTunes


ATRIAL FIB: YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT – PART 2

This post first published on October 8, 2017. Rosalie Ungar is the author of IN A HEARTBEAT: The Ups & Downs of Life with Atrial Fib.


I had a heart attack while giving a speech about heart healthy foods to 25 men and women in the food industry. I was 63 with an active history of atrial fib, but was assured by doctors treating me that the heart attack and my atrial fib had nothing to do with each other.

That was the year 2000. Seventeen years later it has been proven that the 2 are related. So are many other human ailments. Among them are diabetes and diverticulosis both of which are related to heart problems of all kinds and to what foods we put into our bodies.

Though never having had diabetes, I have suffered this past year from bouts of diverticulitis. Loosely translated, it is the active form of a chronic condition called diverticulosis which forms bulging pockets in the digestive tract. It assures me that I must now be doubly careful so that what I eat, how much I eat and when I eat will allow me to sleep without discomfort, heart burn or intestinal spasms.

What is a heart healthy diet? It varies as we find out more information about new discoveries and genetics. For me it’s a combination of Weight Watchers™ and the Mediterranean Diet of eating.

Make sure that portion control is key and that artificial ingredients are none or almost none. Read labels. Use small plates. Take only one portion servings at each meal. Eat slowly putting your fork down between bites. Chew, don’t swallow food whole. Pay attention to what and how you are eating. Stop before you get full. The head doesn’t know the stomach is full for 20 minutes. You won’t know you’ve overeaten until after you’ve overeaten. Then, it’s too late.

I am active in several heart organizations, some local, some national and some related to The Ross Heart Hospital at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus, Ohio. HEALING HEARTS OF CENTRAL OHIO (www.healingheartscentralohio.org) meets monthly and features speakers on all phases of heart issues. Come join us if you are in the Central Ohio area.

Check out more info IN A HEARTBEAT: The Ups & Downs of Life with Atrial Fib.

 

In a Heartbeat is available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle formats.
The book is also available at Barnes & Noble as a paperback and Nook book.
Digital versions are available on Kobo and iTunes.
Also available as audio book from Amazon and Audible.

Get the book here!
In a Heartbeat on AmazonIn a Heartbeat on Barnes and NobleIn a Heartbeat on KoboIn a Heartbeat on iTunes
In a Heartbeat on iTunes