Jessica Culbert, who came to Akron Children’s Hospital from Bixby, Oklahoma, in March for a successful heart procedure, credits pediatric cardiologist Dr. John Clark with saving two lives.
Hers and her unborn baby’s.
Jessica was pregnant with her third child when she and her husband, Devan, went on a nationwide search for a heart specialist who would perform a cardiac ablation procedure to fix a severe rhythm disorder. They found Dr. Clark, director of the Pediatric Arrythmia Center.
Six months after undergoing a successful ablation, she gave birth to Taylor John Culbert. The couple picked Taylor’s middle name in honor of Dr. Clark.
Jessica, 29, was in her first trimester when she and Devan traveled 943 miles to see Dr. Clark. Her rhythm disorder, called supraventricular tachycardia, caused her heart to race abnormally fast, sometimes as high as 240 beats per minute. It sapped her stamina, caused her to black out and landed her in the hospital more times than she can count.
Jessica looked all over the country for a cardiologist who would do an ablation to destroy the heart cells causing the abnormal rhythm. But the procedure typically involves using an X-ray technology that emits radiation dangerous to a developing fetus. Doctors in Oklahoma told her to wait until after her baby was born.
Jessica didn’t think she had that much time.
“Over and over I heard, ‘There’s nothing we can do for you,’” she said. “It was really scary being pregnant and having this problem.”
The couple found an article about Dr. Clark, who performs about 100 ablations a year on children and adults without using X-ray radiation. Instead, Dr. Clark uses a 3-D mapping system that enables him to see images of the heart. The images allow him to guide a catheter into place to ablate the malfunctioning cells, sort of like repairing a bad electrical circuit.
She was only the second pregnant woman to undergo ablation by Dr. Clark. He believes ablation using 3-D mapping instead of radiation should become a standard of care for all patients around the country, due to long-term health risks associated with medical radiation exposure.
“I wish more people knew this was possible with pregnancy,” she said. “We need more doctors doing this.”
Jessica said she is feeling the best she ever has.
In hindsight, she may have had the condition for a decade or more, but she didn’t know it. At age 19, she saw a doctor about her sometimes racing heart, but it was dismissed as anxiety.
“I never felt good. I never felt quite right,” she said.
The problem got worse with age, to the point where she had to give up driving and needed help taking care of her children, Jordan, 6, and Aiden, 3.
Now she is back to singing in worship choir, tending to a painting party business, working out and raising her children with renewed vigor.
“I don’t get exhausted. I don’t get sick when I do things. I feel my energy levels are super high,” she said. “I’m running around, cooking, cleaning. I started a YouTube channel.”
Most important, her baby boy, who was at risk in utero because of Jessica’s condition, is healthy. Jessica reached out to Dr. Clark to let him know the good news, and how grateful she is that he fixed her racing heart.