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Heart Month Tip #27: Challenge Yourself, Mentally and Physically

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The doctors can’t believe it, either. “I’m not supposed to be here,” Bob says. “No one could believe I survived the first time.”
February 27, 2015

From Bob Wood, heart patient and lifelong athlete

Bob Wood has learned how to live with heart disease over the past 10 years. “Challenging myself mentally and physically keeps my mind off it,” he says. It also helps his mind and body stay sharp. Challenging yourself to go beyond your comfort zone—whether it's to increase your level of exercise, try a new food, or face an old fear—builds strength and resilience. That, in turn, can protect you against disease.

Living with ventricular tachycardia (v-tach)

Bob was challenging himself on a mountain bike when he had his first episode of ventricular tachycardia (v-tach), a fast heart rhythm that can be dangerous. He was at the top of a hill when he suddenly got dizzy, and his neck felt like it was going to explode. He passed out, and when he woke up he felt sick, nauseous, and tired. But he got on his bike and rode down! (He and his wife Sheila still can’t believe that one.)

Bob has gone through three implanted defibrillators since then. He’s been through six shocks from the devices—all exercise-induced when he was hiking, backpacking, or cycling. The recovery is hard. “You don’t want to get shocked,” he says. “It’s not fun.”

Bob doesn’t ride much anymore, but he and Sheila love to hike and backpack, and want to continue to enjoy outdoor activities. So he’s learned how to correct the rhythm to prevent a shock. He knows what it feels like when his heart rhythm is speeding up and can head it off. He’s also careful with his health in other ways: He’s been a vegetarian for more than 33 years, and doesn’t take any medication except aspirin.

Helping others

Bob is committed to helping others with similar issues by sharing his story and the knowledge he’s gained. It’s important to talk with others and to support them, and to let them support you, he says, so he’s a regular at the Ticker Kickers—a St. Luke’s support group for people with implanted cardiac defibrillators, or ICDs. They're able to ask questions of experts, voice concerns, and reassure each other by sharing similar experiences. It’s a place for education, support, and a healthy lunch—and a large dose of friendship. To learn more about the Ticker Kickers, call St. Luke’s Heart Rhythm Center at (208) 322-1680.

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Symptoms of ventricular tachycardia

V-tach is a fast heart rhythm that starts in the lower part of the heart (ventricles). It can lead to ventricular fibrillation, in which the heartbeats are so fast and irregular that the heart stops pumping blood. It’s a leading cause of sudden cardiac death.

Symptoms include:

  • Palpitations, an uncomfortable awareness of the heart beating rapidly or irregularly
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain or angina
  • Near-fainting or fainting
  • Weak pulse or no pulse