Ginny underwent an ablation for atrial flutter but was then diagnosed with AF after an episode while mountaineering. She has taken warfarin and beta-blockers but is now drug-free after a successful catheter ablation.
Ginny’s great passion in life is mountaineering. So her biggest concern when diagnosed with atrial flutter at the age of 45 after a dizzy spell at work was that it might curtail her climbing pursuits and put an end to her ultimate goal’ to climb the Himalayas. Beta-blockers (atenolol) stabilised her condition and were generally well tolerated although they did slow her down and cause sleeplessness at first. The atrial flutter returned, however, and Ginny’s consultant recommended a flutter ablation.
Describing herself as a fanatical, unusual character’, Ginny put off having the flutter ablation until she had successfully climbed the inaccessible pinnacle on the Isle of Skye’. The ablation initially appeared to be successful and after a one month period of recovery Ginny returned to the mountains and to a fitness programme which involved running up to 10-15 miles a week. All was well until she felt light headed one day while watching women ascending a climbing wall. Her GP listened to her heart but found nothing wrong. However, three quarters of the way up St Sunday Crag in the Lake District, Ginny found her heart pounding very very fast’, her legs weak, and her pulse rate so fast that she couldn’t count it. Dismissing this as an off day’, however, Ginny wasn’t overly concerned about her symptoms. A strong, fit athlete, she was used to being a bit out of breath.
A few days later, however, in what she thought would be a final follow-up appointment with her cardiologist, Ginny was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation. It came as a complete shock’. Ginny finds it frightening that she could easily have ignored her symptoms if she hadn’t gone ahead with her appointment out of respect for the cardiologist’. Although very fit, the risk of stroke and the desire to be free of heart problems so that she could carry on a very, very active life’ influenced Ginny’s decision to have a catheter ablation. She was prescribed warfarin for six months before the procedure.
Living in a rural area, Ginny found being on warfarin very time consuming and expensive as she travelled to hospital for regular blood tests. Her former employer also found it difficult to accept that her appointments could make her late for work. Ginny was also concerned about the possibility of internal bleeding should she have an accident while climbing and was careful to make her fellow climbers aware of her condition and to modify her route where necessary as a concession to warfarin’.
Although Ginny had headaches which she found quite debilitating’ for 2 weeks following the catheter ablation, the procedure appears to have been successful and almost a year after treatment Ginny remains free from AF.
Ginny has found booklets and advice from the Atrial Fibrillation Association useful in helping her understand her condition, and she is full of praise for the cardiologists, electrophysiologists, and arrhythmia nurses who have treated her. They have been polite, helpful, reassuring, and willing to answer her questions, and, as a result, she has been happy to follow their advice. She says I wouldn’t swap having had AF because I would have missed out on meeting some very professional, charming people’.
Having AF has, however, had devastating consequences on Ginny’s career, holding her back from applying for jobs at a stage in life when she feels she should be moving ahead. It has also impinged on her leisure and she is still waiting for that golden moment’ when health wise she is able to get insurance to go abroad to pursue her challenges as a mountaineer. Now drug-free since her ablation, Ginny is fairly confident’ that in a year’s time she will be where I want to be’. Her advice to others diagnosed with AF is to seek as much information as possible, and keep yourself as stress free as life allows you to be’. Interview held 18/01/12