The Epitome of Health
Tim Young, a 38-year-old respiratory therapist and resident of Oceanside, Calif., never imagined there would come a point in time when something as simple as lying on his left side would be different.
Born and raised in Orange County, Tim's physical fitness and level of activity, which primarily involved surfing, paddle boarding and other water sports, continued into his adult years. In fact, the average person (and even Tim himself) wouldn't expect him to have any potential life-threatening health problems.
Staying Attuned to Symptoms
As the youngest of five children, Tim grew up with three older sisters and an older brother. During their college years, Tim recalled his sisters consistently having, "fainting spells" or seizures. After Tim's sisters received inconclusive MRI results, their doctors said the cause of their "fainting spells" could be anxiety or stress.
It wasn't until Tim's sisters became older and started having children of their own that a new discovery was made in response to the "fainting spells." Tim's niece began to experience similar reactions when she became stressed or stimulated by sudden, loud noises. However, when she suddenly lost consciousness one morning after her alarm clock startled her, doctors decided to dig deeper into Tim's family's genes.
A New Discovery
The verdict revealed a congenital heart disorder called Long QT Syndrome (LQTS). This disorder affects the heart's electrical activity and is known to cause dangerous and uncontrollable heart rhythms that can result in sudden death. Symptoms often include unexplained fainting, seizures, sudden cardiac arrest and sudden death, typically induced by stress, excitement or exercise.
"Basically, this means the whole time my sisters and niece were having seizure-like fainting spells, they were experiencing dangerous cardiac events," said Tim. And, with uncontrollable heart rhythms, one incidence of sudden cardiac arrest can be fatal.
Another surprising twist to Tim's genetic inheritance of LQTS is his older brother is the only one of his siblings that does not present any symptoms associated with the disorder.
"While LQTS is often diagnosed after determining genetic patterns for the disorder, physicians typically consider performing other tests such as an EKG before making a definite diagnosis," said Aseem Desai, MD, FACC, FHRS, board-certified cardiac electrophysiologist at
Mission Hospital. "Not everyone who has LQTS develops dangerous heart rhythms or even exhibits symptoms. That's why an EKG can be performed to assess the QT interval that corresponds to the time in which the ventricles of the heart contract."
Although Tim never experienced any symptoms of LQTS, his EKG revealed ventricular tachycardia (V-tach), or a rapid heartbeat in the bottom chambers of his heart.
Taking Preventive Steps
While Tim knew he lived a healthy lifestyle and did not display any symptoms of LQTS, he also knew that he wouldn't be able to stop an uncontrollable cardiac event if he experienced V-tach. After weighing his options with Dr. Desai, his wife, and family members, Tim chose a newer treatment option available, called the Subcutaneous Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator (S-ICD). "The S-ICD System is the first and only subcutaneous implantable defibrillator of its kind to provide protection against sudden cardiac arrest. Different from traditional transvenous implanted cardioverter defibrillators, the S-ICD system is implanted directly under the skin leaving the heart and vasculature untouched," Dr. Desai explained.
Rather than touching the heart, the electrical lead in the S-ICD system that provides a shock (if needed), rests on top of the left pectoral muscle with the implant to the side of the left pectoral muscle. Dr. Desai also mentioned the main benefits of the S-ICD include a quicker recovery time and reduced rate of infection at the electrical lead site.
Tim said he returned to surfing six weeks after the S-ICD device was implanted in his chest.
Peace of Mind
"Even though I have a medical device that is noticeably implanted on the side of my chest under my left arm, I do not worry as much about experiencing sudden cardiac arrest. If I do, the S-ICD will shock my heart back into a normal rhythm," Tim said. Tim explained the main reason why he chose the S-ICD is because there aren't any physical limitations with the device. "I'm an active person and spend most of my free time in the water, so I'm happy with my decision on the S-ICD and would recommend it to anyone who's an eligible candidate," Tim added.
After the journey to uncovering the genetic cardiac disorder in Tim's family, both Tim and Dr. Desai urge patients to stay attuned to their health. Even the slightest irregularities could point to a much more significant problem. "My advice to patients is listen to your body and have open, honest communication with your doctor," Tim added.
For more information about the Heart Center or the heart services offered at Mission Hospital, visit mission4health.com/heart.