Making Friends with Fear: My SVT Heart Ablation Surgery

Six years ago today in August of 2012, I did Tough Mudder for the first time. It’s a pretty wicked 18 km obstacle course designed by British Special Forces meant to “test the limits of endurance, strength and heart.”  You literally heave your up way up and down a massive ski hill ten times. It’s pretty much the worst (or the best, depending on how you look at these things) obstacle course you can imagine. There’s mud, ice, barbed wire and paramedics with stretchers at the ready.

Spoiler alert: Turns out I needed one of those stretchers. I completed the entire barf-inducing course, including the grand finale obstacle called the Electric Eel. It features hanging 10,000-volt live wires that you must run through in order to cross the finish line. There was a sign saying “not recommended if you have a heart condition” or something like that. Whatever. No biggie.

Right after the “Arctic Enema”, a pool of ice water, mud and barb wire!

Of course, in my infinite 30-year old wisdom – despite having a heart condition – I ignored it.

Thirty minutes later, I found myself barely conscious lying in some ski hut with an IV in my muddy arm, surrounded by shouting paramedics.  I was in SVT or supraventricular tachycardia. I’d had these episodes of severely fast heart beat of 200 beats per minute since I was 14, but I’d always been able to make them go away on their own. Not this time. This time I needed a drug called adenosine to essentially restart my heart to reset the normal electrical rhythm.

Back in the ski hut I heard “you’ll feel some pressure!” and it felt like an elephant was crushing my chest. I lurched, Pulp Fiction style. My friend Kyra was with me. I remember her bawling hysterically watching me. Adenosine sucks. It feels like you’re about to die for about 10 seconds – like the grim reaper is hovering. Drama drama drama.

Then it’s all over and your heart beats normal. Relief floods you.

Needless to say, I was pretty freaked out by it all. I saw a cardiologist. My options were 1) Do nothing  2) Take beta blocker drugs everyday and feel like garbage 3) Have an ablation surgery to burn out the extra electrical pathway I have in my heart.

I chose the first option. Do nothing and hope for the best.  I started living my life trying to avoid having another SVT episode. This is hard when you make a living as a Pilates instructor. I stopped running, I stopped pushing myself in class and cut out caffeine, but every few months I’d experience that horrifying rapid heart rate. Sometimes I’d end up in the ER in an ambulance, sometimes it would pass.

To date, I’ve needed adenosine 5 times.  It’s gotten worse, which happens as your heart ages. But I still did nothing. Beta blockers would rob me of my energy, and ablation surgery was petrifying.

Then I got pregnant. Shit got even crazier. I could barely walk up the stairs at home without feeling like my heart was going to pop out of my chest. Pregnancy makes this condition worse because your heart has to work harder from the extra blood volume.

I reached a breaking point when I needed adenosine in my 3rd trimester of pregnancy.  All of a sudden it was no longer about me anymore. I wrote about that pregnancy experience here. 

I gave birth to a healthy baby girl this past April 2018.  I’m beyond grateful that my hospital labour and delivery went smoothly. 12 hours of labour, no epidural, not even an IV – despite what I was told by doctors that I’d “likely need”.  Funny how motivation works. I was bound and determined to experience something natural after using IVF to conceive and all the heart issues in pregnancy. Kind of felt like I had something to prove. My body is not a lemon. 

I freaking did it. It was a combination of luck (baby’s head was down, my heart stayed in normal rhythm, no other surprise medical issues), an amazing doula, the hospital bathtub, prenatal pilates (shameless plug, but it’s true!) and fierce fierce stubbornness.

My birth experience is what finally gave me the courage to do the heart ablation surgery. It’s now August 2018, and it’s been a week since the surgery. Waiting in anticipation for this heart surgery – a procedure where I’d have to be awake, and one that could leave me with a pacemaker at 36 years old – was the scariest thing I’ve ever experienced.

(Listening to music so I don’t have to hear the surgeons talking during the surgery.)

But I did the surgery despite the raging fear. And it’s over. And I’m ok. Here’s what I learned.

Becoming a mother has taught me to make space for fear to exist in my life. Every time I feel it, it reminds me that I am alive. I have been blessed with so much to lose. With that comes fear, but also so much love. Feeling fear is the epitome of being human – of being a mother. Surrendering to that fear and acknowledging its importance means I am no longer controlled by it. I am stronger than my fear.

And my body is not a lemon. Neither is yours. Fear is normal. We are all stronger than we think.

(Wires in my heart during the ablation)







23 thoughts on “Making Friends with Fear: My SVT Heart Ablation Surgery

  1. Wow Nikki. What a story. You are a force. And a fabulous role model for your daughter. I hope you’re up and about, feeling better, very soon. Thanks for sharing. I miss you and your classes.

    1. Thank you Christine! It’s been quite the journey, but feeling really good and back to teaching in two weeks! xo

  2. I was so moved by your narrative of what you have gone through. You are a wonderful role model for your beautiful daughter and your fearless strength, courage and determination are lessons we all can learn from ( men & woman). I am happy to hear that the ablation went well and you can resume your pilate classes. Miss you! x0x0 Rose K.

    1. Thank you so much Rose for your kind words! So happy it’s all over. It’s amazing what we can conquer when we put our minds to it! Ready to move on to a new chapter 🙂

  3. I’m so sorry for all this! I share a similar experience with medical interventions while pregnant and it’s so hard. My sons give me the determination to face each subsequent surgery with faith. Here’s to tranquility and smooth healing!

    1. Thank you Gerry! It’s so true that our children give us so much courage. Sending you lots of good vibes. Here’s to your health! xx

  4. I just scheduled my SVT ablation and I’m terrified! It’s in 3 weeks. How are you doing now. Have you had SVT or anything I should be aware of? Please be honest, I want to know the bad parts and the good so I know what I’m in for. Lol Thank you so much!! 🙂 Love your story and your strength heart sister warrior.

    1. It was the best thing I ever did! I wish I had the ablation sooner. I’m lucky to now be SVT free. Feel free to email me if you’d like some tips on how to prep for the surgery! Too much to write here! It will be ok, I promise xoxo

  5. I don’t know if you’re gonna see this, but I’m going to have this same surgery pretty soon and I was felling exactly like you. Had the same options and I followed in the same order, also had crazy episodes during my pregnancy. Now I decide to have the surgery. You made me feel less nervous and I’m so glad for you sharing your story! Thank you so much!! I hope you’re doing amazing now! ❤️

    1. Happy to chat Michele. I know how nerve wracking it can feel! You are not alone. The ablation has a very VERY high success rate!

  6. Hi Nikki! I came across your story this morning, I’m 28 years old. My name is Cristy. I had my first SVT episode back at the end of April, I was also pregnant then but had an early loss at 5 weeks.

    Since April I’ve had 3 episodes total, 2 of them last week and they all required adenosine. The doctors scheduled me for an ablation in 2 weeks, they highly recommend it before I try being pregnant again. Your story has given me courage and hope. I’m scared but I’m going to do anyways with hopes of trying again for a baby someday, and not having to worry when I’ll have an episode again.

    If you have any tips for the day of the procedure and staying calm and optimistic please let me know? Thank you so much!

    1. Happy to chat with you Cristy – I know how very scary it can be. Adenosine is NOT fun! The ablation was the best thing I ever did. I wish I did it sooner. Feel free to email and I can give you some tips for surgery day xx

  7. Thank you for sharing. I have had SVT episodes for 30 years and two weeks ago I needed adenosine for the first time. Scared the crap out of me. Now my dr. Is recommending ablation. I’m leaning toward it but really nervous.

  8. Wow. I feel like this story is me. I’ve had SVT and insane PACs my whole life. In Nov 2020 I had a baby girl and during my pregnancy I was hospitalized twice during my pregnancy for cardiac episodes. I’ve been told I should NOT even think of having another baby until I get an ablation. My surgery is in 3 weeks. Any advice? How was recovery? Do you think I’m insane for trying for another baby the month after? Thank you for sharing your story.

  9. Hi Nikki

    Thanks for sharing your story. I backed out of an ablation a few years ago.

    My SVT’s are sporadic and only really happen a few times a year but the fear of an episode has begun to consume me.

    I have decided to finally be referred for the ablation, I have two young children and the fear of having an episode when I am out with them or home alone with them is awful.

    So comforting to read your success story- I want to be able to do normal things again like exercise and not worry about getting on a plane or getting too hot! X

  10. Wow thank you so much. This made me cry because I am supposed to have this surgery on Friday (4days away) and I am petrified. I am a Christian and I know that God is with me but it is still hard for me to grasp how this surgery works successfully. This actually helped me a lot because I have been trying to back out of the procedure but the svt is coming more often and it drastically affects my life. Please email me if you can!

    1. I know how scary it can be! But I promise it will be ok. It is the most successful procedure in all of medicine and very likely to be curative! Try listening to music during the surgery. It helped me so much as I did not want to hear the doctors talking. I had big headphones and a long Spotify playlist on my phone! xx

      1. It’s so great to find this! I’m having my ablation on Oct 4th! I’m 40 with a 7 y/o and have had this my whole life. It’s never caused too many issues but been happening more frequently and have had some “strong” episodes as of late which has led to crazy anxiety + I teach yoga and mountain bike and I feel nervous to push hard even though I’ve never had an exercise induced episode. I also started getting PVC’s like 6 years ago (ever have those??) I’ve had adenosine 2x, and yes, that stuff is THE WORST. It’s so scary being a Mama and having to do this but I want to fix it now while I’m still on the younger side. Is listening to music a common thing they allow during this procedure? I’d love that.

    2. How did it go? My procedure is coming up. I am so nervous! I am probably driving the nurses and support staff crazy with all my questions. My anxiety can be strong which does not help. Hopefully the staff will forgive me for the mini panic attacks!

  11. Thanks for sharing your story. I go in for my ablation this Wed am May 24th. I have lived with SVT since 2006 and have had adenosine 9 times when vagal maneuvers didn’t work. It’s hard for me to believe that ablation can cure my SVT but I am hopeful. Soon to be 49 and my last SVT episode was the worst with adenosine given to me in the ambulance on route to the hospital. My ticker needs a break. Getting too old for this nonsense.

    Will take some earphones and ear buds and see if the hospital will let me wear them during the procedure like you did.

    Much Love from Honolulu

  12. Nick your story is very inspiring. I had my catheter ablation 8 weeks ago too. It was successful. But I have been having ectopic heart beat afterwards. I was wondering if you experienced the same. Also we’re you on regular medications like beta blockers before the ablation? Did experience digestive issues post ablation?

    1. I’m glad it was successful! I did not ever need to be on beta blockers. No digestive issues either! I have had a few mini episodes since the ablation, lasting no more than 10 – 15 seconds, and then it converts back on its own. I am told this is normal and not a cause for concern!

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