by Stephen Reville

It all started when I was training in a boxing gym one night. I was sparring with some friends when suddenly, I felt the left side of my body go numb and I couldn’t breathe. My friends, concerned for my well-being, insisted that they drive me to the hospital to get checked. I declined and instead, I waited the day after to check out and see if maybe I’d feel better...and I didn’t. I still felt the same the day after, so I immediately went to my doctor. Turns out, I wouldn’t like what I was about to hear.

My doctor ran an ECG on me, got his book out and said that I had Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome: I had an extra electrical pathway in my heart that caused a rapid heartbeat, and this is what caused me to palpitate.

Other symptoms of Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome may include dizziness, a feeling of an irregular heartbeat (palpitations), shortness of breath, low blood pressure (hypotension), and fainting. Rarely, the arrhythmia associated with Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome can cause the heart to stop (cardiac arrest).

He also said I need to go for a keyhole surgery; because I was in a queue to get this operation, I couldn’t do anything that would risk making my heart pump too fast. This included drinking alcohol, not getting enough sleep, basically anything that can affect my heart. That would also take me out of any strenuous forms of exercise for at least six months! I had to endure it because if the operation wasn’t done, I might have just dropped dead on the spot.

I got through the operation, then went back for a test two days before I was set to fly out to Sweden for a holiday. The operation hadn't been 100% successful, so I had to get another operation literally the day after the test to burn the electrodes coming into my heart to decrease the palpitations. It was a very stressful experience and I wasn’t sure that it would work.

A year after, I went for a checkup and was pleased to hear that I would never have to come back again since I was cleared to do training. The operation had worked! But now, I would have to catch up on a lot of training since I wasn’t able to do any form of exercise for a good six months. I got back into boxing contests, doing Ironmans, triathlons, and all that madness.

So that’s how I survived two heart operations and a very rare disease to come back even stronger to do a lot more. The takeaway here is: don’t delay seeking medical attention, and do what needs to be done, even if it means taking time away from sport. That will always be there to return to, but your health and life is the priority.

Stephen Reville is an MX Endurance coach.

(Header photo by Online Marketing on Unsplash.)