How a simple EKG changed my life

Courtesy of Harley Varavette | Marsha Varavette, Harley Varavette’s mother died from coronary artery disease at the age of 48.

Harley Varavette | Staff Writer

I have been through a lot of heartache.

Not the typical heartbreak that most 21-year-olds endure. My heartbreak was truly life-altering.

When the cardiologist told me I was going to need heart surgery, just before my senior year at Duquesne, I was in shock.

Fears danced in my head. I had family members undergo similar procedures who ended up having strokes during the surgery, and in some cases died shortly after.

Despite reassurances from everyone, including medical professionals, I could not help but think of the possibility that I may not wake up after being put under.

Then there was the worry about long-term ramifications of the surgery. I have seen loved ones go through a similar experience, to wind up dead after just six weeks.

EKGs should be a common practice in every doctor’s appointment. Being aware of one’s heart health will enable people to control their health better and make wiser decisions in taking better care of themselves.

Like many families, my family has a long history of heart disease.

Less than 5 years ago, my mother unexpectedly died at the age of 48.

She died from coronary artery disease, a disease caused by plaque buildup in the wall of the arteries that supply blood to the heart. She had undergone a procedure to install a pacemaker for her heart and, 6 weeks later, she died.

The woman who raised me was suddenly out of my life. My father passed away when I was 3 years old. It was my mother who guided me through life.

And now she is gone.

This loss woke me up to reality and started the clock for me. What can I do to maintain my heart health before it is too late?

Coronary artery disease is a rather common form of cardiovascular disease. According to the American Heart Association, cardiovascular disease remains the leading cause of death in the United States, accounting for 928,741 deaths in 2020.

My curiosity led me to find a new primary care physician and learn for myself what I may be enduring and if I am following a line of heart disease patients.

After two years of EKGs and an MRI, my findings did not show cardiovascular disease. They did, however, find another heart condition that about 25% of live births, according to the National Institutes of Health.

It is a congenital heart defect called atrial septal defect.

Along with this atrial septal defect, the doctors had found another hole in my heart that was causing my right ventricle to dilate, which made me extremely susceptible to having a stroke or heart failure.

Sitting in a cardiologist’s office being told about these findings and possibly having surgery felt like I was watching a drama on the television. The reality of the situation was overwhelming. Heart surgery was not part of my summer plans.

Over a month ago I underwent surgery to fix this issue to live a longer, fuller life: hopefully longer than both of my parents.

I have had an issue with my heart from birth but had no clue about it. There were never any symptoms, so I never felt the need to have my heart looked at. Being asymptomatic, however, puts me at further risk of heart failure, as it does for other asymptomatic individuals.

EKG readings can start one’s journey to understanding their heart health. An electrocardiogram records the electrical signals in the heart. It’s a common and painless test used to quickly detect heart problems and monitor the heart’s health. A simple test that is not practiced at every appointment.

A typical doctor’s appointment involves blood pressure and blood oxygen readings. But what regulates blood pressure? The heart does.

With 1 in 25 youth having hypertension, according to Johns Hopkins University, and heart disease as the leading factor of deaths in the U.S., why not practice an EKG more frequently at doctors’ appointments, as well, as another precaution to assure that the heart is healthy? With heart disease a leading factor in deaths and so common in people’s lives, why not practice this at every appointment?

EKGs should be done at every doctor’s appointment. Being aware of one’s heart health will enable people to control their health better and make wiser decisions in taking better care of themselves.

And while my heart may be heavy from the toll of losing my parents, the future of my heart health is secure because of an EKG reading.

Please do not hesitate to request an EKG, you may be surprised at what you find and can possibly save your, or a loved one’s, life.