Stories And Inspiration

Heart Surgery Hasn't Stopped HPU Student's Active Lifestyle

Submitted by Anonymous on Feb 25th 2016 - 12:00AM. | Perma Link

GO FAR heart monthHigh Point University senior Hannah Smith is our spring semester GO FAR intern. A Texas native, she is majoring in nonprofit leadership management with a minor in marketing. As part of American Heart Month, here is her story about her heart surgery during freshman year. 

Something wasn’t right. Years on the soccer field, her active childhood showed it. Running fitness tests  at home in Texas prior to freshman soccer preseason at High Point University, Hannah Smith struggled. She tried to run but flailed around. When her mother stopped her, Smith collapsed in her arms.

After an EKG, the now HPU senior learned she had Wolff Parkinson White syndrome. With this condition, an extra electrical pathway in the heart causes rapid heartbeat and sometimes leads to serious complications or rarely, sudden death.

Smith said her cardiologist broke startling news: “If you would’ve kept running that day, you probably wouldn’t be here.”

Smith had an ablation by catheter to block the extra pathway. One week later, she began her freshman year, wearing a heart-rate monitor for a month and sitting out the fall season of soccer.

At an already transitional time, it wasn’t easy for Smith. “I was a little scared,” she said. “Having put so much time and effort into getting into the best shape I could be in for preseason and then having it crumble at the last minute, that was hard for me.” 

Smith had never noticed any symptoms. The condition can affect breathing, but Smith has had exercise-induced asthma since eighth grade.

“One thing that really got to me was why didn’t I notice anything before?” she said. “That’s my athlete mind, push through the pain.” 

Dr. David Fitzgerald, of UNC Regional Physicians Carolina Cardiology, said patients with Wolff Parkinson White may not have symptoms. “Patients with the abnormal EKG pattern may be symptomatic with heart rhythm disturbances or may be asymptomatic. 

“Although the rhythm may create symptoms of cardiac awareness, lightheadedness, weakness and fatigue, it rarely is associated with severe symptoms such as fainting or death,” he said. 

Diagnosing those rhythms should be taken seriously though. Because in “small groups of patients with symptoms related to fast heart rhythms, incidence of sudden cardiac death may be the first manifestation of the arrhythmia,” Fitzgerald said. EKG is required to diagnose any abnormal heart rhythm.  

After surgery, it didn’t take long for Smith to return to her active lifestyle, with some hesitation.

“I think that my biggest concern was, ‘Will I be the same? Will I notice it?’” The cardiologist told her she’d be the same.  

She began running six weeks after her surgery and eventually returned to HPU soccer. Her EKG is now completely normal.

Smith doesn’t take her health for granted. Though she has always been active, now more than ever she knows what it means to stay heart healthy. She eats a well-balanced diet and exercises daily.

“It doesn’t have to be running,” she said. “You can walk. I would say being active is the biggest thing.”

And Smith wants to make people aware of her story. “An EKG could probably diagnose this in a heartbeat,” she said. “And that could save someone’s life.”

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