It’s called supraventricular tachycardia. It feels like this:
“It was like a Buick was being lowered on top of me slowly.”
That’s Davin Vogler, principal of Manor Middle School, describing what it felt like when his heart went crazy, maybe one or two times a month for a couple of years before an outpatient procedure last year stopped the episodes. His was a particular kind of heart arrhythmia, which is relatively common, showing up in about 1 percent of the population, according to Dr. J. Joseph Gallinghouse, an electrophysiologist at the Texas Cardiac Arrhythmia Institute at St. David’s Medical Center.
Vogler’s condition, known as SVT, isn’t commonly life-threatening unless there’s other cardiac disease, “but it’s a life-altering condition,” Gallinghouse said.
“It occurs spontaneously, without warning,” he said. “What it becomes is a real psychological overhang. People become fearful of traveling; they restrict their activities. Quite often patients require emergency room visits to intravenous medications” to get their hearts to a normal rate.
Vogler’s major inconvenience was dropping a pot of chili during a school event. That episode lasted for about 10 minutes. It didn’t hurt, he said, and he stuck around to clean up the mess. He’d been told that medical professions needed to witness an incident to properly diagnose it. (Gallinghouse said patients are frequently misdiagnosed as having a panic disorder, when in fact the episodes occur spontaneously.)
Then, last fall, just as the school year was beginning, Vogler, 31, was driving to school and felt it again. He went to see the school nurse. EMS was called. His heart was beating more than 200 times each minute.
“They described it as a unique experience,” Vogler said.
The procedure, known as a cardiac ablation, was scheduled. It involves running a catheter to the heart and scarring the tissue that causes the abnormal rhythms, in Vogler’s case between the upper and lower chambers. It’s about 98 percent effective, according to Gallinghouse.
“The greatest benefit is people have the peace of mind that they never have to worry about this again,” Gallinghouse said.
“I do have a little more energy,” Vogler said. “I felt lighter. I didn’t know the pressure was there because it was always there. It was more of an occasional annoyance. I’ve got three kids (at home) and 850 kids here, so I can’t really slow down.”