When I was a small child, I suffered from asthma until the age of 2. After that, life was perfectly fine (health-wise) and at the age of 8, while debating between tap dancing or swimming, I took up competitive swimming. I quickly rose up the ranks in the swimming world, making it to the top of my age group in the Pacific Region, with many thanks to my top-notch swim club, Santa Clara Swim Club. I was awarded "Outstanding Swimmer" for the 10-and-under girls category in the Pacific Region, and I even made it to "Western Zones" (an all-star swim meet that only swimmers who were chosen would be allowed to attend) twice, when I was 10 and 12.
Unfortunately, it all came crashing down about six months after I turned 12. I started getting more and more tired during swim practice, and my performances at swim meets were extremely poor and disappointing. I would get out of breath after about two laps and it was a struggle everyday to swim. My parents finally took me to the doctor to see what was wrong with me, and we all accounted it as the return of my asthma, as wheezing was one of my symptoms. I was put on asthma medications and inhalers for a number of months, but nothing helped. Finally, after yet another doctor visit, my doctor referred me to get a lung x-ray (for the presumed asthma) and in the x-ray results, it was noticed that my heart was enlarged! I was then referred to a cardiologist, and that was when my whole word flipped. I was diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy, and my ejection fraction was so low that she was shocked that I wasn’t currently hospitalized. The only reason my symptoms were so minimal was because I was a swimmer. After immediately being put on heart medications, I was sent home to deal with what would be the biggest challange in my life.
In the beginning, things did not immediately change. I took daily medication for my heart and my ejection fraction slowly improved and became stable. However, at the beginning of my freshman year of high school, I had a sudden cardiac arrest, landing me in the ICU at the Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital in Stanford. I was there for an entire month and my doctors to decided that implanting an ICD would be the best solution. After missing an entire month of school, I finished the rest of my freshman year with no other occurrences, but sophomore year did not go as smoothly. I had two separate cardiac arrests that resulted in my ICD firing and landing me in the hospital for a week each time, also making me miss more school. In fact, the second cardiac arrest was a week before my first semester finals. Yet, after studying while in the hospital, I was still able to achieve all A’s in my classes! After those two events in sophomore year, the rest of my high school career was relatively peaceful. I did not experience any more episodes, but I did have to deal with tri-monthly doctor visits to Stanford Hospital. These 4+ hour visits often required that I miss more school. I had more blood tests than I could count (every month in fact, due to the fact that I was on coumadin).
I was finally cleared for "light exercise" but my high school does not require upperclassman to take P.E., so I usually tried to go biking for 30 min after school and go to yoga on the weekends with my mom. I was so thankful that my condition had now stabilized enough for me to live a mostly normal life and that I was healthy enough to leave home to attend college. I ended up graduating as Valedictorian of my class, even despite all my hospital stays and missing about two months of school overall.
I am now in my third year at UCLA studying molecular biology and minoring in biomedical research, but my struggle with dilated cardiomyopathy did not end in high school. The summer before my freshman year at UCLA, I started to have a lot of arrhythmias, so much so that my doctors back at Stanford decided for me to have a VT ablation. Unfortunately, the VT ablation was not successful and I ended up having two more cardiac arrests resulting in my ICD firing during the fall quarter of my freshman year. I ended up receiving a second VT ablation two weeks before Christmas, delaying my freshman quarter finals. I spent my winter break studying and recuperating from the surgery. My bad luck did not end there, for in February during my freshman year, I experienced a VT storm due to hyperthyroidism caused from amiodarone, one of the anti-arrhythmics I have been on. This resulted in about 15 shocks from my ICD and another week of hospitalization.
During the first couple of months after my VT storm, it was really hard for me to sleep and I became extremely sensitive to my heart beats, especially at night. After an enjoyable summer, I started my sophomore year at UCLA and everything was going well, until about winter quarter when I started to develop intense anxiety. I guess I still had remnants of post-traumatic stress disorder from what had happened back in February, and I never fully dealt with it. It was extremely difficult for me to sleep at night as I would stay up from the beating of my heart, imagining that it was irregular and in VT. Since then, I have seen a therapist and have been doing much better about dealing with my anxiety. The rest of my sophomore year went very smoothly, and I was able to achieve a 4.0 for all three quarters :)
As you can see, my journey has not been an easy one but I somehow managed to persevere through and not let my heart condition hold me back. I really try to look at the “glass half-full” side of life, and after that difficult freshman year in college, the rest of my time at UCLA has been extremely well in regards to my health. Within the last two years, I switched to a healthier lifestyle with healthy eating and starting to exercise daily. This has made me stronger and I’m feeling better than ever before. If you want to hear more about my story and experiences with dilated cardiomyopathy, feel free to check out my blog at www.cardiacwarrior.blogspot.com!