Karen Asper, a nurse affiliated with Abington Hospital, volunteered to work at Simon’s Fund’s free heart screening at Upper Dublin high school on September 23rd, 2012. As the day wore on, Karen learned that space had opened up at the ‘sold out’ screening and she went home to pick up her children to be screened. Like most parents who bring their children to screenings, Karen expected to be in and out. Like 1% of these parents – or 1 in 100 – Karen was stunned when she learned that her daughter had a heart condition.
The EKG had shown that daughter Katie, 14, had Wolff Parkinson White Syndrome (WPW), a disorder that can run in families. Although Katie had never complained of any symptoms, such as dizziness or a racing heart, during a stress test, when her heart was stressed to a rate of 190, the Wolff Parkinson White still showed up on the monitors. This indicated that the condition could put Katie in danger. Ironically, at the time, some of Karen’s days were being spent working in Abington’s cardiac stress lab giving stress tests.
People with WPW have an extra electrical circuit in their heart, which can cause their heart rate to go too high. The gravity of a person’s WPW depends on which pathway is affected by the aberrant circuit. Katie’s doctors could not determine which pathway was impacted without performing invasive electrophysiological tests. Her mother found this untenable, “I was having a hard time intervening with an invasive procedure when Katie was not symptomatic,” she explains.
The uncertainty was taking its toll on Katie, causing her to visit the nurse more at school and feel apprehensive. Karen found herself regularly quizzing the cardiologists in her stress test lab, until finally she got the advice that spurred her to action. Dr. Andy Fireman advised her to stop thinking like a nurse and instead think like a mom about how she would feel if something happened to Katie. His advice, combined with Katie’s upcoming mission to Belize, where she wouldn’t have access to advanced medical care, finally made the decision easy.
Almost nine months to the day after her initial heart screening, Katie underwent the testing and a cardiac ablation at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Her family was told after the procedure that they had made the right choice; had the doctor have known in advance which pathway was aberrant, ablation to remedy it would definitely have been recommended. An EKG and echocardiogram shortly thereafter showed no sign of WPW.