‘I feel truly blessed’
HARLAN — In 2011, Judi Olson was diagnosed with Artrial Septal Defect (ASD), a discovery that led the Harlan woman down a long path to recovery.
“The ASD was undetected until I was almost 55,” Olson said.
“All in all, I had years of treatments to get to this point.”
ASD, a congenital heart defect present at birth, is a condition where there is a hole or holes in the heart between the artia, or upper chambers. The hole increases the amount of blood that flows to the lungs. Olson was diagnosed after she went into atrial fibrillation. Atrial fibrillation, often called AFib, is the most common type of treated heart arrhythmia. An arrhythmia is when the heart beats too slowly, too fast, or in an irregular way. Her cardiologist put her on a blood thinner medication, which seemed to keep her heart regulated.
Late September 2011, her cardiologist referred her to the Creighton Cardiac Center for a Transesophageal Echocardiogram (TEE), an echocardiogram procedure during which a specialized probe with an ultrasound transducer at its tip is passed down the esophagus. It takes a series of moving pictures of the heart and provides superior image quality of the posterior cardiac structures.
During the TEE, the cardiologist found three holes in Judi’s atrial wall. “I was scheduled to have open-heart surgery the next day to repair the holes,” Judi said.
The surgeon used a piece of the pericardium (the sac around the heart) to cover the holes. Olson said she was off work for four weeks and had cardiac rehab for several months, but the procedure seemed to take care of the issues that lead to her surgery.
“Approximately 6 months after the surgery I went back into AFib. The specialist regarded it as a residual effect from the surgery. I had my first cardioversion at this time,” Olson said.
A cardioversion is a procedure that uses low-energy shocks to restore regular heart rhythm. “I stayed in a regular heart rhythm for a while, and then slipped back into AFib. After several episodes of this, my cardiologist suggested that I go to an electrophysiologist for further treatment.”
An electrophysiologist is a specialist trained to diagnose the source of the irregular heartbeat. “With him I had several more AFib incidents and subsequent cardioversions,” Olson said.
The electrophysiologist recommended her to the specialist who had overseen his training, which led to Olson having a cardiac ablation. During this procedure, the surgeon uses thin, flexible catheters inserted through the veins or arteries to make small burns or freezes to cause scarring on the inside of the heart to help break up the electrical signals that cause irregular heartbeats. Cardiac ablation usually takes three to six hours to complete. Olson said she also had a loop recorder implanted to monitor her heart if she thought she was having any more episodes. She is scheduled to finally get the loop monitor removed in March.
Five months after Olson’s diagnosis, her daughter was also diagnosed with ASD.
“When she started having the weird palpations, we took her to the doctor,” Olson said.
“The specialist was sure it was nothing, but did an EKG and ultrasound. I remember him saying he wouldn’t have bet on her having ASD, but he would have lost the bet.”
Her daughter had open heart surgery just before she turned 19.
Olson said her daughter never had any of the other issues Judi experienced. “She is doing wonderfully after her successful surgery,” Olson said.
Following her surgery, Olson said she had to make several lifestyle changes, mainly with her diet. “Initially, I was to avoid alcohol, limit saturated fat, sugar, salt, fried food, pastries, fast food, and most junk foods,” she said, in addition to exercising in moderation.
She had been on several different medications through the years for different aspects of the healing process. She said she is off all the medications, with the exception of one beta-blocker a day.
Now Olson said her health is good. “I have been in regular sinus rhythm for seven years now,” Olson said. She follows up with her cardiologist every July.
“I still need to exercise more, lose some weight, get more sleep — some of the usual parts of life,” she said. “I feel truly blessed to have had the care I had from my doctors, nurses, and specialists.”
“Life is good!”