Sedley teen encourages Heart Association donations

Published 9:28 am Wednesday, October 15, 2014

To the Editor:

My name is Jenna Johnson. Not too long ago, I sat in a hospital room thinking that my name would be forgotten, and I would only be a statistic on the American Heart Association website. There are many reasons why I am a proud participant of the American Heart Association walk on Oct. 25. The American Heart Association holds the walk to raise much-needed funds to fight heart disease and stroke, the number one and number four killers in America. Did you know that one person dies from heart disease every 39 seconds? It is extremely terrifying to know I could have been one of those people.

My life was changed forever the year I turned 14. I was diagnosed with a type of supraventricular tachycardia, commonly known as SVT, called atrioventricular reentrant node tachycardia. Tachycardia means that your heart beats as slow as 150 beats per minute and as fast as 350 beats per minute. I felt my first episode of supraventricular tachycardia when I was walking up the stairs into the kitchen at my house. I was too uninformed about heart disease to understand what was happening to my body. The only thing I felt was pure fear. I know now that I was feeling a palpitation shaking through my chest into my stomach. Supraventricular tachycardia literally knocks the wind out of you. It wears you out physically and emotionally. Your body is exhausted and your mind is exhausted from worrying about when the next episode will occur. Imagine being able feel your heart beating 250 beats per minute and being able to observe it throbbing in your chest and stomach also. What hurt me the most about having supraventricular tachycardia was being able to actually feel my own heart stop beating. My heart could not keep up with pumping blood and receiving oxygen as fast as my heart was beating, so it would stop beating for a few seconds. SVT causes you to feel light headed all the time and when you stand up everything goes black. My own adrenaline was attacking my body by putting me into SVT. I used to be this perfectly healthy girl who did whatever she wanted but SVT stole my quality of life from me.

For two years, I battled for my life not knowing I was holding onto it by a short thread. The beta blocker medicine I was on to control my heart rate did not work. A cardiologist had misdiagnosed the type of supraventricular tachycardia I had. I actually had ectopic atrial tachycardia and that is why my medication did not work. Ectopic atrial tachycardia is a common form of supraventricular tachycardia in babies, but rare in teenagers. One thing that amazed me the most is that children younger than me experience it. My doctor scheduled heart surgery about a month after my first appointment. He called me the same day and moved it to three days later. I was only 16 years old, and I did not fully understand what a big deal emergency heart surgery was. Little did I know that Dr. John Reed would save my life not once but twice. Dr. Reed is not the only person who deserves all the credit for my life. The American Heart Association deserves credit because they funded the knowledge that was used to do my surgery. Less than a month later, I had emergency heart surgery the same day I saw Dr. Reed. My mother saw firsthand what my heart palpitation looked like that day. I do not know who was more scared, her or me.

Without the surgery, I would have gone into mediated cardiomyopathy, which is a reversible cause of heart failure. It was the surgery or my life. Heart failure can occur at any point after a year of uncontrolled tachycardia. I went two years with uncontrolled tachycardia, so my risks were higher than the average person. What scared me the most was knowing that I could have dropped dead any second.

I do not regret going through any of this experience. It made me a better person. My quality of life has dramatically improved since I had 18 surgical scars burned onto my heart. My worse nightmare was also my greatest blessing. I never realized how I took my health for granted until I got ectopic atrial tachycardia. If I would not have gone through what I did, I would not be writing this letter asking you for a donation to help me put an end to heart disease. Heart disease picks anybody. It waits for no one and can occur at any point in your life. I never thought it would pick me, but it did. Thank you for taking the time to read my story. If you feel the need to share my story to help fund my fight to end heart disease and stroke, feel free to do so. Please help me save lives like the people who walked before me to save mine.

Jenna Kit Johnson, 18