Into the Heart of the Alps

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All Wired Up for Mt. Wire

1.5 years post-ablation and time for another check-up with Dr. Marrouche (which always involves an MRI and heart monitor). Meaning I was wearing an 8-day heart monitor (all wired up) for last week’s training hike up the steep side of Mt. Wire (2,115 feet in 1.5 miles).

View over Salt Lake Valley from radio towers at top of Mt. Wire.
View over Salt Lake Valley from radio towers at top of Mt. Wire.
Thankfully, the monitor confirmed how great my heart feels, even during strenuous exercise.

The Miracle of Ablation *

Every check-up presents another opportunity to reflect on the miracle of ablation – the cure or fix for my Atrial Fibrillation (AFib). Especially after I spent 30 years hearing first that there was nothing that could be done to fix me, and then that I was not a good candidate for the procedure. Which, to be fair, was true until the past few years when the experience with ablations has grown exponentially.

So, here’s my simpleton’s understanding of how the miracle of ablation happens. While in AFib, the electrical current going through your heart goes crazy, ricocheting off in many directions instead of moving in a direct path to a regular heartbeat. In all this craziness, heart tissue can be damaged (the damaged tissue is called “fibrosis”). Each AFib patient has different amounts of fibrosis, for reasons that doctors don’t yet understand. According to the CARMA Center’s research, the amount of fibrosis has a direct relationship to the likelihood of success of an ablation. Lucky for me, I was given a 75-80% chance of success, despite having been in AFib 24/7 for so long.

A cardiac MRI reveals the amount of fibrosis – shows up as green on the MRI image.

MRI showing areas of fibrosis from AFib (in green).
MRI showing areas of fibrosis from AFib (in green).
With that information, the ElectroPhysiologist (EP) (in my case, Dr. Nassir Marrouche), goes up into your heart through the groin (both sides) and the neck. They “burn” (intentionally scar) several areas – around the four pulmonary vein entries into the atrium (that’s where the electricity first enters the heart, so it gets guided in the right direction) and over all the areas of fibrosis (so the electricity has nothing to ricochet off anymore). If done successfully, the areas of green will now show up white on an MRI (now known as “lesions”, but these are good lesions) and there will be no more AFib. Seriously, Dr. Marrouche did a little happy dance looking at the white lesions on my post-ablation MRI.

After the ablation and usually a 24-hour stay in the hospital, you go home and rest for a few days while things start to heal. Most people go back to work within a week.

Everyone recovers differently, but I took no heart meds from Day 1 post-ablation and have not taken any blood thinners (except a baby aspirin a day) since three months post-ablation. My capacity for rigorous exercise has increased since about three months post-ablation (my heart still raced for the first three months, but no AFib), which is why I’m undertaking this adventure … because I can.

* A more technical description of ablation is available here:

Via Alpina Anticipation

We’re a little less than a month from our Via Alpina departure date (flight to Geneva leaves June 26). Busy getting our gear together and wondering whether the packs will be too heavy, cutting maps down to their smallest size, researching accommodation options for every night of the trek. And investing in technology to continue this blog on the trail. Ordered an iPad2 with wifi, which better get here before we leave.

You may notice some additions to the blog page:

  • You can “Donate Today!” – all funds will be used to support AFib awareness outreach and AFib research. In other words, this is not fundraising for our trek. That said, you could calculate the amount of your donation by the mile – 220+ miles for summer 2011 ($.50/mile trekked = $110; $1/mile trekked = $220; $5/mile trekked = $1,100; etc.). Just sayin’ …
    And if you mention “Into The Heart of the Alps” under “add special instructions”, we’ll shout out a big Thank You at our highest point this summer (Colle del Sautron at 8,830’).
  • You can “Subscribe to this Feed” to receive notice when new blog entries are posted.
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