Healthy You - Every Day

Rachel Rocks On

Procedure heals musician’s potentially life-threatening heart condition

Rachel Wild wears many hats: singer, songwriter, drummer and bass guitarist.

At just 26, she didn’t expect to add heart patient to the list, but thanks to her Lehigh Valley Health Network (LVHN) doctors, her future is now as bright as the lights on the stages where she plies her craft.

Wild, formerly of Saylorsburg and now of North Philadelphia, was diagnosed with Wolff-Parkinson-White (WPW) syndrome, a condition caused by an extra electrical signaling connection between the heart's upper and lower chambers. This rogue connection bypasses the heart’s normal electrical network and produces an ultra-fast heartbeat, known as tachycardia.

Rogue heartbeat

That extra electrical connection, with Wild since birth, had the potential to send her heart rate to more than 200 beats per minute (bpm), much faster than the normal resting heartbeat for adults of 60-100 bpm.

Besides worrisome symptoms which included heart palpitations and light-headedness, her condition could be fatal.

The road to her diagnosis wasn’t a quick one, however.

In high school, she suffered fainting episodes but recalled doctors at the time (not affiliated with LVHN) chalked it up to anxiety. In September 2023, she was playing at a music festival in Philadelphia amid stressful conditions. Bad weather forced the show indoors, equipment wasn’t working correctly. She was nervous and hadn’t eaten.

She had intense heart palpitations and felt lightheaded as if she were about to lose consciousness. She didn’t go to the hospital and the next day went back home. She spoke to a friend that day but recalls she couldn’t understand the conversation. After staying in bed the following day, a Sunday, she went to work Monday at her day job as a project manager for an industrial lighting company. But when she woke that day, she was nauseous and had vertigo. She eventually returned home from work.

LVHN gets it right

She made an appointment at her primary care practice, LVPG Family Medicine–Stroudsburg. There, an EKG was performed and her primary care physician, Oliana Ros, MD, suspected WPW. Wild was referred to cardiologist and electrophysiologist Simon Gringut, MD, with Lehigh Valley Heart and Vascular Institute, who saw her a few days later. He confirmed the WPW diagnosis and planned timely follow-up treatment.

“You just don’t think you’re going to go to the doctor and have a diagnosis like that,” says Wild, a former instructor at various School of Rock locations. “Dr. Ros and Dr. Gringut knew exactly what to do and I feel lucky.”

Dr. Ros says primary care clinicians are trained to see a wide variety of medical conditions. “Seeing your primary care physician when you have new symptoms can lead to early diagnosis and treatment, which improves your prognosis,” Dr. Ros says.

Wild says Dr. Gringut explained how he would treat the electrical signaling problem with an ablation procedure. “He said, ‘We’re going to get you in and fix this.’ He did and we’re good now,” says Wild. “I loved him. He’s got a great sense of humor and made me feel very comfortable, that everything would be OK. He explained the risks and benefits and I felt like I was in really good hands.”

In an ablation, doctors thread electrode catheters through a vein or artery to the area of the heart causing the abnormal heartbeat and use mild, painless, radiofrequency energy (similar to microwave heat) to destroy cells in a very small area of the heart responsible for the rapid heartbeat. “We were able to cauterize the part of the heart causing the problem,” says Dr. Gringut.

Wild says she went to the catheterization lab at Lehigh Valley Hospital–Pocono for the ablation procedure in the morning and was home that evening. The only reminder of the procedure, she says, are two “miniscule” scars on her leg.

Musical dreams live on

I went from all of a sudden having my whole world turned upside down and a week later I’m totally fine,” Wild says.

Dr. Gringut says WPW is uncommon in the general population. It affects about 1-3 people per thousand worldwide.

Wild, who started playing guitar in the seventh grade, went on tour with a band in the United Kingdom in November, confident of being able to continue to chase her musical dream of performing full-time. “It’s interesting when you’re 26, when you’re young. You think you’re going to live forever and then you have to think about what would happen if you died,” Wild says. “It definitely puts things into perspective.”

Dr. Gringut says performing lifesaving procedures never gets old. “It’s one of the most rewarding things I’m able to do. To have such an impact on someone’s life is incredible. It’s why I do what I do.”

Wild says she’s versatile and can “pick up anything and make sound out of it.” Being free from a potentially deadly heart condition certainly hits all the right notes.

Comprehensive Heart Rhythm Management Program for Arrhythmias

Heart rhythm problems, or arrhythmias, are caused by electrical issues in the heart. Your heart may beat too fast, too slow or erratically. At Lehigh Valley Heart and Vascular Institute, our heart rhythm experts use advanced heart mapping systems and the latest treatments, like Micra™, the world's smallest pacemaker, to get your heart back in sync.

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