Author: Zachary Harper

Young adult cardiac patient shares tips for ‘going it alone’ in the hospital

arrhythmia cardiac therapy dog with heart patient
Zach with Sam the “Pawprints” dog

Zachary Harper, 23, a young adult living with congenital heart disease, receives care at the Boston Children’s Hospital Heart Center.

I was recently admitted to Boston Children’s Hospital. Though I am no stranger to these visits, they are still draining — both physically and mentally.

You see, seven years ago, when I was 16, I went into sudden cardiac arrest at school. After an array of tests, my doctors concluded that a virus had attacked my heart. But five years later, another event led to a new diagnosis: arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy, or ARVC, a rare genetic disease that causes an abnormal heart beat.  Treatment for this disease consists of medication and an Internal Cardiac Defibrillator (ICD).

An ICD is similar to a pacemaker and is implanted in the chest, where it monitors a patient’s heartbeat. When it senses an arrhythmia, the defibrillator sends a precise electrical pulse to the heart to restore normal rhythm.

For two years, I didn’t have any serious problems, but recently I experienced symptoms of cardiac arrest again.  My dad decided we were going to the hospital just to be safe.  While there, my heart started to go into small, slow bursts of ventricular tachycardia. Nothing too fast — it wasn’t to the point where my device had to shock me — but it was enough to really stress a person out!

As I’m now 23 years old, my parents and I felt I could manage being in the hospital alone for what we thought would just be a night or two. But as time went by, it seemed these cardiac events were happening a little too frequently, and my doctors were concerned.  The arrhythmias seemed to happen mostly at night, when I was alone, and that started to take a toll on my anxiety.

Thankfully, I did have a wonderful team of nurses and doctors who were there for my entire stay. This is true for all of my visits to the Heart Center.

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