Before starting her career in wine imports, Erin Drain's life was preoccupied by a mysterious condition.
I would get bad headaches and get really dizzy, see stars, and pass out every once in a while or feel like I had to faint. So it was pretty confusing and also — I mean, I thought I was having a heart attack.
Erin Drain was a teenager when she first began to experience a feeling inside her chest. But she couldn't pinpoint what it was.
It almost felt like switching gears in a car, like downshifting too soon or something. I would feel this physical sensation in my heart. And all of a sudden, it was almost like maybe a skipped beat, and then suddenly my heart rate would just skyrocket.
The episodes continued on for 14 years, often lasting up to 10 hours at a time, affecting Erin's everyday life, contributing to anxiety, even panic attacks.
Because I never could predict it, it was just hanging over my head all the time. I would be out with friends or on vacation or walking around a park or doing anything — or having dinner, drinking wine, anything, and it would just strike.
Erin was actually having heart palpitations, giving the sensation of a rapid heartbeat. Erin's physician recommended she look into a procedure called an ablation. That's when she found Dr. Roderick Tung, cardiologist and the director of electrophysiology at UChicago Medicine. Dr. Tung could relate personally to Erin's condition.
I went into cardiac electrophysiology because, when I was 18 years old, I had a rapid arrhythmia that would shoot my heart rate up to about 240 beats per minute when I was a freshman in college. And when it first happened, I actually thought I was going to die and went to the emergency room. And eventually, I was diagnosed with a very common arrhythmia called AV node reentrant tachycardia.
By injecting an implantable microchip under Erin's skin, which monitors her heart, Dr. Tung diagnosed her with Wolff Parkinson White syndrome, an arrhythmia he said of which 99 percent of cases can be cured with an ablation.
Hers was a very unique kind of WPW because her extra pathway, this extra little connection that conducts electricity and gets caught into a circuit, it didn't conduct forward. It only went backwards. So you actually can't even see it on her EKG. And we call that a concealed pathway. Erin's ultimate solution was something called catheter ablation, which is a little flexible tube on a pulley and wires system that we can steer. And it's a non-surgical approach. There's no cutting. There's no sewing. There's no stiches.
And we go up through the veins of the leg, and we find where that extra little connection is that creates the electrical circuit that causes the little short circuit and makes our heart rev up so fast. And then we zap it. We burn it. It's cauterization. And for hers, she's completely cured.
Erin was able to go home the same day she had her procedure. She noticed a new, strange sensation afterwards — the feeling of a normal heartbeat.
I was sitting on the couch and I remember thinking, I feel different because I can't feel my heart beating, which is normal. And so, it actually was sort of freaky at first and I was questioning if I was a ghost.
It was a new feeling for Erin, finally providing the freedom to pursue her passions.
I feel great. I definitely feel like it's just part of my life I don't have to think about anymore, which is awesome.