Category Archives: ablation

Aspen Valley Half Marathon

Last month while we were planning our trip to Colorado, I was browsing through the Aspen Times  and found a little reference to a half marathon happening a week after we arrived.  The fact that it was going to be run at 9,000 feet didn’t quite register with me, because I saw the elevation map…

This is the whole marathon map, but the half starts at around mile 7 and veers off from the full marathon at around mile 17.  So my brain saw downhill and I signed up!  The fact that I had six days to acclimate to the altitude as well as the fact that I did not train for it didn’t cross my mind.

I started getting a little bit nervous four days ago, when we biked the course, and the “downhill” portion wasn’t as easy as I imagined.  The altitude was still doing a number on me.  Then I checked the results from last year’s half, and the slowest person was around 2 1/2 hours…yikes!  That’s about what I ran the Country Music Half in April.  Combined with the altitude and the lack of training, I convinced myself I was going to be in last place.  I know, I should be happy that I can run at all after my heart issues last year, blah, blah, blah…but last place? 

I fought off the urge to can it entirely, and decided to just show up and do what I could do.  If I had to walk part of the way, hopefully I’d finish before at least one full marathoner, since they only started one hour before we did.  I drove to the intercept lot where the bus was there to take us to the start.  A quick look around didn’t make me feel very good.  No old people (like me), and no fat people.  Seriously, I have run 9 marathons, and it is amazing the amount of overweight runners who run faster than I do!  I used the portapotty 4 times (yes, nervous much?), and eavesdropped on other people’s conversations.

No lines at the Portapotty!  Score!

I heard someone talk about a seven minute mile pace being slow, and the chick behind me was talking about doing a 500 mile Rocky Mountain bike ride.  Not good.  While on the bus I talked with the guy in front of me who has done this for three years, and he told me that 1) they took out the big uphill at the beginning (what?  I didn’t know there was an uphill at the beginning!), and 2) there were about 300 half marathon runners, which was more than double the number from last year.  That eased my mind a little.  Surely there would be someone else as dumb as me who signed up without training or acclimating to the altitude.   Then I saw this guy…he’s probably a really nice guy, but I thought, “Maybe I can beat him!”

I wore those shorts in my first marathon in 1995!

Notice the red white and blue shorts in front of me!

The course really is downhill, even if it doesn’t feel like it most of the time.  It’s one of those deceptive downhills that seem flat, until you turn around and go the other way.  It was painful.  My pace was faster than I planned, which made me nervous for the end of the race.  But the views were amazing.  Around mile 7 my stomach started rumbling a little bit, the way it does when I usually duck behind a tree or find a gas station with a bathroom.  Unfortunately,  there were no trees to duck behind, and definitely no gas stations.  I was afraid to drink water at the water stops because I didn’t know what my stomach would do, but I made myself do it, because it is definitely dry here.  Then, after a rare uphill at mile 9, there was a water stop, and Glory Hallelujah…

Proof that there is a God!

That 5 minute stop did wonders for me…gave my legs a rest, too!  The next 4 miles were hillier than the entire course, but I made it!  And the second I crossed the finish line, my phone rang and it was H!  She had no idea I was running but it was the best prize I could have gotten.  I know, it really shouldn’t matter if I finish last, it should matter that I finish.  And I get that.  But for some reason, the thing that keeps me signing up for these things, even though I get older and slower, is that I’m not the only one.  I’ll never win a race, but hopefully I’ll always beat someone, even if it’s a 92 year old.  I think that’s a reasonable goal…until I’m 92.

Not my fastest, but not my slowest, and not LAST

Exercising after Ablation…YES!

We’re back in NC.  J’s birthday was yesterday, and we decided to do a quick trip up here to meet with the architect and designer for our new house, and hopefully see the beginning of the fall colors.  The fall here is my absolute favorite time of year.  We couldn’t have picked a better weekend.  The weather is crisp, the skies are clear and blue, and the colors are starting to peek out.  We can’t come back for a couple more weeks, so I hope we don’t miss the spectacular orange, red and gold that will probably really pop next week. 

I am 12 days past ablation, and I am absolutely amazed at the difference!  Not only do I sleep like a baby since the PVCs have disappeared, but from the minute I began to exercise again I am back up to the intensity I was doing before this all started, almost three years ago.  The only disappointment is that since I couldn’t run, but wanted a similar calorie burn, I was walking on a treadmill for 90 minutes at 15% incline.  Probably the dumbest thing I could have done, because I have done something to my hip.  Doing high impact things like running really hurts my hip, so I can’t run right now, but at least it’s not because I can’t breathe!  So now I’m stretching like crazy, and still doing the elliptical and stair machine, and today J and I biked the mountains here.  It’s a relatively short ride…about 10 miles, but the first hill is constant uphill for 3.5 miles (about 1200 feet rise in elevation), then we go off road on a gravel cut through for another couple of miles that seems like 20, and another huge steep hill that seems to go forever.  But it’s a beautiful ride and with the leaves changing the views just blow my mind.   Last time I biked with J I had to stop about every five minutes, in tears, because I physically could not do what I had done a million times before, and ended up having to turn around.  That resulted in my trekking to NYC to get tested, which uncovered the V tach, so it was all good, I guess.

Who knew that a simple catheterization could cure me?  I feel so lucky that the problem was finally discovered and it was completely fixable.  I probably should wait until I say “completely”, because it’s still early, and these things do sometimes fail, but so far, I feel like I traded in an old model for a brand spanking new heart!   J read a statistic somewhere that up to 40% of medical conditions are misdiagnosed every year.  In my case, I was lucky.  My condition wasn’t life threatening…I had no underlying heart disease.  In fact, if I wasn’t an athlete, I might never have even known I had it!  But it was definitely changing my quality of life.  When I think that three doctors (a cardiologist and two pulmonologists) missed it, and that I spent tons of money on asthma medications that didn’t work ($300/month!), it’s a little frustrating.  But the end justifies the means.  I am just so thankful that I am able to continue to run and bike.  Sure, I’m still 50 years old, with 50 year old joints and the aches and pains that come with that, but my heart is not going to stop me!

Now I just have to pick a marathon for 2012!

My Ablation Adventures…

Whew…what a crazy few months it’s been.  Updating this blog has had to take a backseat to family stuff, and some health stuff.  Hopefully things are settling down now so I can write more regularly.  I’ve had so many people ask about my health I thought I should just explain it all here…

Two and a half years ago, I started having trouble running.  One day I would run 9 miles with no problems, and the next I would have to stop several times to catch my breath.  The first time it happened I thought I just must have been having a bad day…maybe I didn’t eat right, was dehydrated, was getting old, or just in a funk.  But when it started to happen on a regular basis I knew something wasn’t right.  We had a trip planned to Colorado and I started getting a little nervous about going to high altitude if there was something health-wise going on, so I decided to get checked out.  My doc sent me to a cardiologist, who ordered a stress treadmill/echo cardiogram.  I passed with flying colors, except for some little thing the doctor wanted to take a closer look at.  (He told J it might be a Myxoma, a common tumor inside the cavities of the heart, no big deal).  Luckily, it was nothing, and he said I was fine to go skiing.

But in the following weeks my “exercise intolerance” continued, so we were referred to a pulmonologist who said I had “exercise-induced asthma“.  I began a $300.00/month regimen of inhaled corticosteroids as well as albuteral as needed, and was hopeful I’d get it under control.  J didn’t believe I actually had asthma, because after running 9 marathons and doing several triathlons over the years, I had never had so much as a cough or wheezing episode.  And I wasn’t wheezing then, either.  It was hard to really describe the sensation, but I felt my chest tightening, so I couldn’t get a good breath.  It felt sometimes like my heart was beating outside my chest.  The only thing I could say for certainty was that a few minutes into a run, I HAD to STOP!  I mean, had to stop.  I couldn’t go on.  But I never had to gasp for breath.  My doctor told me that asthma doesn’t always present itself the way you see it on TV, and he was certain that if I continued the medication it would help. 

Fast forward about two years to the beginning of this past summer, and it was worse than ever.  It happened every single time I exercised, no matter what kind of exercise I did.  Swimming, biking, running, stairmaster, elliptical, hiking, etc., all gave me the same symptoms.  As addicted to exercise as I am, I continued to exercise through it.  In pain, but way slower and less intense than usual.  I would just go twice as long.  J finally got frustrated with the whole situation when we were on a bike ride.  It was our loop around the neighborhood in North Carolina, very hilly and a great workout.  Typically I would loop him on the long uphills, but that day I couldn’t go five minutes without having to stop to catch my breath.  I was in tears.  So he called his cousin, who is the head of NYU hospital in New York.  He put us in touch with Dr. Frances Adams, one of the top asthma specialists in New York.  We decided to fly up for a quick visit with him.

I loved him.  He was very kind and understanding, even when I cried and blubbered through the whole consultation explaining how much I missed running.  He said we would figure it out and felt sure we could find a treatment that worked.  Heck, there was a list a mile long of olympic athletes with exercise-induced asthma, so if they could do it, surely I could.  So he ordered another battery of tests, which weren’t conclusive, so he sent me for another treadmill test, even though I told him I had passed one a couple of years before.

I had to go back to New York to drop H off at the airport for her trip to China this summer, so we scheduled it for that time.  J wasn’t with me.  I was hooked up to an echo, and started walking on the treadmill, which increased the incline and speed every 3 minutes.  I could see the EKG while I was walking, and it looked like a normal heartbeat to me.  I have lasted over 20 minutes in the past during this test, but about eleven minutes in, my EKG started going crazy!  It looked like someone took the needle and started scribbling up and down.  As soon as I got the words out, “Hey, what is THAT?”, he stopped the test and had me lay down really quickly. 

Long story short, I had a bout of Ventricular Tachycardia, where my heart rate went from 110 to 200 and started beating very erratically, originating in the ventricular area, not the atrium, where it normally does.  The doctor explained to me that that is likely what caused my exercise intolerance.

“Wait, WHAT?  I don’t have asthma?” were the first words out of my mouth.  The next, “Can we fix it?”  The answers were yes and yes.  I probably didn’t have asthma, and there was a fix, a cardiac ablation, where they go into your heart with tiny catheters, induce the arrythmia so they can map it, and then cauterize the electrical pathway that causes the irregular beats.

I was referred to a cardiologist in Nashville, at Vanderbilt, who ordered a zillion more tests to rule out the presence of heart disease: MRI, calcium screening, cat scan, and a short cardiac catheterization to check out my pulmonary artery.  Then he told me, “Well, I’m the plumber, and you need an electrician.”  So I was referred to an EP, who had me take a week of verapamil, then re-do my stress test.  The medication did not do anything, and my v-tach and PVCs showed up easily during the test.

The cardiac ablation is nothing short of miraculous, at least to me.  I had to spend one night in the hospital, but they didn’t have to completely put me to sleep, went in through my groin so they didn’t have to cut me open, went into my heart and found the short circuit and fixed it!  I was groggy during the procedure so I don’t remember much of it, but I do remember feeling a couple of the burns when they cauterized.  I was kind of moaning and I heard them say, “She’s feeling that,” and I don’t remember anything afterwards so they must have given me more sedative.  I woke up and they were ecstatic that they were easily able to induce the V tach, and fix it, and when they tried to induce it again they couldn’t!  I’m sure a lot of it was the medication, but I cried like a baby when they told me that.

I had it done on Monday, came home from the hospital on Tuesday, walked a little bit Wednesday-Friday, and yesterday I test-drove my newly ablated heart by going on a 3 mile run.  With NO issures at all!!  I felt like I could have run longer, but I wasn’t supposed to so I walked the rest of the six mile loop.  It’s now six days post-op and I am so optimistic that they really did fix it.  I didn’t realize that the almost constant palpitations I was experiencing, even at rest,  weren’t normal, but now that I don’t have them it’s an amazing feeling.   I will have to wear a monitor before my follow up with the surgeon in a couple of weeks, so they will know for sure, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

I’ve spent too much time on the internet, reading about other people’s experiences with ablation, which is not a great idea.  There are lots of failed ablations out there, but I think the people who have good results probably aren’t on the forums looking for answers.  It’s a very common procedure, and I am going to stay positive that I’ll be back running marathons in 2012!