When Hannah Grable got COVID, everything changed. A busy mother of two, Hannah dealt with various health conditions throughout her life, including one that caused her to faint from time to time. After she had her second child, she was diagnosed with Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS). POTS is a blood circulation disorder that causes an increase in heart rate when a person goes from laying down to standing. This can cause fainting, lightheadedness, nausea, fatigue, difficulty concentrating and other symptoms.
It was after she contracted COVID though, that Hannah saw her condition drastically worsen.
“It destroyed my life,” Hannah recounted. Hannah’s bout with COVID landed her in the hospital and involved a rehab stint to help her get strength back in her limbs.
But COVID left Hannah with more than a weaker body. The virus also worsened her POTS, which caused her to faint upwards of three to four times per day.
Hannah’s care team was trying to figure out why she became so sick and why she was now fainting multiple times a day.
Her cardiologist tried various medications and implanted a loop recorder to monitor her heart activity.
“They said ‘your heart is stopping.’ I thought, ‘Oh, that explains it.’ I think the longest one was 23 seconds, and my heart was slipping into a heart block,” she said.
To cope with her frequent fainting episodes, Hannah used a wheelchair and moved her bed from the second floor of her home to the first floor. The fainting episodes also made her feel frustrated that she could not be as active with and care for her children like she wanted. And, at times, she felt confused and frustrated that what her care team had tried wasn’t getting results.
Hannah’s care team attempted to have her try cardiac rehab, but she kept fainting during the sessions. She was then referred to Dr. John Clark, pediatric cardiologist at Akron Children’s.
”Dr. Clark did let me know that we weren’t going to cure the POTS, but hoped to stop the events that were causing me to go into heart block and causing my heart to stop,” Hannah said.
Hannah underwent a cardioneuroablation procedure performed by Dr. Clark. The procedure sends energy through a catheter to the areas of the heart where there is irregular electrical activity. The energy destroys, or ablates, small areas of heart tissue to create tiny scars. These scars break up and block abnormal electrical signals, allowing normalization of the heart rhythm.
“It was a long surgery, and I didn’t know what to expect,” she said.
While on the operating table under sedation, Dr. Clark informed Hannah that her resting heart rate was well in the 100s. A normal resting heart rate is between 60-100 beats per minute and can be affected by various factors. Hannah’s resting heart rate was reading into the 150s daily.
“Dr. Clark was able to lower my heart rate, so that when it spikes [due to POTS] it’s not as detrimental. The highest I think I’ve seen since that surgery has been 120 bpm. which is incredible,” Hannah said. “I went from using my wheelchair constantly to only needing to use it on long outings. I still use my cane just because I feel more secure with it. The surgery has been completely life changing for me.”
In addition to having the procedure help with her fainting, Hannah reports that it helped with other POTS symptoms like nausea and vomiting.
“The vomiting would trigger fainting episodes. Everything was so connected in a way I didn’t realize,” she said.
Now, Hannah is working on rehabbing her muscles after spending several months not being able to be active. She has also moved her bed back to the second floor of her home and is slowly doing more activities with her children.
“We’ve started our spring garden. I get to take my kids outside every day, and I walk to our garden with a cane when we weed and water. I’ve started baking and cooking again. And I’m slowly starting to see the horizon of what life was like before I got sick,” she said.
Hannah wants other patients to know that while the procedure can seem scary, it’s also lifechanging and to keep advocating for yourself.
“It’s scary on paper, because it is heart surgery, but it was minimally invasive. I was amazed at how quickly I felt the benefit of it,” she said. “Sometimes doctors don’t have a good answer and you might think you’re crazy. You’re not. There is another side of life and it is possible. I’m so grateful that I had the opportunity to do this. I don’t want to think what my life would be like without Dr. Clark.”