Sarina Pathela opens up about how her heart problems became a source of strength.
By Sarina Pathela and the Masala Team
Originally published in Masala Magazine April-May 2017.
Life is too short to wake up with regrets. So love the people who treat you right. Forget about those who don’t. Believe that everything happens for a reason. If you get a chance, take it. If it changes your life, let it.
A quote by author Paulo Coelho that inspires me every day.
For those who do not know me, my name is Sarina Pathela and I am 26 years old. I grew up as a typical rebellious teenager and went to the United Kingdom for university. I was fearless and my main problems were thinking of excuses not to go to school, procrastination and sleeping through my alarms.
However, when I hit my 20s, my life turned into a roller-coaster. It was terrifying. I was an emotional mess and I went through very tough times, including being shocked by a defibrillator on multiple occasions. My existence was, and still is, filled with various ups and downs.
In my early 20s, I was diagnosed with multiple illnesses, including epilepsy, many forms of arrhythmias, POTS and dysautonomia, and I also had a pacemaker implanted. The problems just came one after another. When I recovered from one problem, the next would develop. Since then, my definition of a problem has changed. My previous problems were no longer “problems”, rather my problems now became real struggles that I actually need to deal with on a daily basis.
Are you wondering how all these illnesses evolved? Good question. But I still do not have the answer to that, and I can say life is filled with good and bad times. The stronger ones are given a tougher life because they are able to deal with it. Well that’s what I’ve been told at least.
Throughout my trying circumstances, I have learned that life is too short to wake up with regrets. I have been given many second chances in living the life I have today. I have not only fought for my life and cheated death multiple times, but I have also come out as a winner. It is not easy but it definitely is worth the fight. Being strong is not an option for me but rather a way of living. Some people tend to believe that being strong means you are cold and never shiver, but actually, the strongest are those who feel it, understand it and accept it on a daily basis.
So the next thing you are probably wondering is how I became so strong. I was actually a weakling in my teenage years and when I started to become ill, I had an emotional breakdown nearly every day. It took a toll on my life and I started to become depressed. But with the support of my family, fiancé and his family and my close friends, I began to realise that this is not the way I should be dealing with my illnesses. Someone once told me that life is filled with stepping stones, and once I have crossed over all the stones, I will have crossed a mountain. Little did I know that as I passed each stone, I would learn more about life and gain more clarity and confidence in God.
Instead of worrying about what will happen in the next few weeks, months or years I learned how to take each day, one day at a time. Instead of feeling I was cursed every day, I changed my entire outlook on life. Every day is a blessing in my eyes and every obstacle a lesson that makes me a better and stronger person.
When you have a lot of struggles in your life, do not let them bring you down and make you feel any less important than everyone else. Each person is fighting their own battles and no one lives a life that is “perfect”. There is no such thing as perfect. Therefore, remember to be kind and humble to everyone. A little bit of kindness may be the one thing that makes that person’s day, or even week.
You were born to learn, conquer, prosper and thrive in life. Remember that time when someone told you that the world is your oyster? It truly is but so are your feelings. You choose how you want to live. Choose to be HAPPY NOW. You owe it to yourself. You are your own warrior. Don’t worry too much about what others think about you, because what you think about yourself means everything. It is not possible for everyone to understand the journey you are on and that’s okay. Your purpose in life is to live it and make the most of it, not make everyone understand. Listen to your heart and live the life you want to live. When you face a problem, FIGHT and remember this too shall pass.
Life can be fantastic one day then awful the next. In between the fantastic and awful days are routine and average days. Hold onto the fantastic days and appreciate every minute. Breathe through the awful days and remind yourself that everything is eventually going to be all right. Relax and strengthen your mind during the okay days. After all, this is life. Nobody said life would be easy but they promised it would be worth it. Once I changed my perspective to be more positive, I became a very strong and courageous woman.
A lot of my visits to cardiologists are filled with jokes and laughter. I have become a woman who is content and settled. This does not mean I no longer have bad days any more. There are days that are awful and painful, but with this mentality I am able to cope better, as well as control my thoughts and feelings. I enjoy every minute of my life. I choose to be happy rather than stressful and worry about my problems. My health is far from perfect but I have accepted it. I accept myself for who I am, and I am trying to create the best life for myself.
As for what’s in store for me in the future, I will worry about it when I have to. As of now, I choose happiness.
My Medical Check Sheet
My Medical Check Sheet is for those of you who would like to read more about the heart conditions I suffer from. All definitions have been retrieved from www.heart.org, www.dysautonomiainternational.org, and the Mayo Clinic.
Sinus tachycardia – treated and resolved
- Definition: a heart rate of more than 100 beats per minute that comes from the sinus node, the heart’s natural pacemaker. The rhythm is regular.
- Symptoms that I had: palpitations (a feeling that my heart was racing), breathlessness, light-headedness and fainting.
- How I was treated for this: initially medication, including beta-blockers and calcium-channel blockers, followed by an epicardial and endocardial ablation of the sinus node as the symptoms persisted despite taking medication.
- Interesting fact: my heart rate would sometimes go up to 250 beats per minute.
Sick sinus syndrome – treated and resolved
- Definition: a group of heart arrhythmias in which the sinus node does not work properly. Normally, the sinus node produces a steady pace of regular electrical impulses. In sick sinus syndrome, these signals are abnormally paced.
- Symptoms that I had: loss of consciousness, severe symptomatic bradycardia and hypotension.
- How I was treated: dual chamber pacemaker
Atrial tachycardia – ongoing illness
- Definition: a heart rate of more than 100 beats per minute that comes from the upper chambers (atrium) of the heart, also known as supraventricular tachycardia (SVT).
- Symptoms that I suffer from: palpitations, extreme tiredness and fainting spells.
- How I am being treated for this: initially medication, including beta-blockers and calcium-channel blockers, followed by an epicardial ablation of a part of my upper chambers and finally back to medication.
- Self-management: Carotid sinus massage – use your fingers to apply pressure on the side of your neck where the carotid artery splits into two branches. Only apply pressure one side at a time. If you apply pressure on both sides at the same time, you will put yourself at risk for a stroke.
- Interesting fact: SVT is the most common form of arrhythmia and is more frequent in females than males.
Ventricular tachycardia – ongoing illness
- Definition: an arrhythmia caused by abnormal electrical signals in the lower chambers of the heart (ventricles). During ventricular tachycardia, abnormal electrical signals in the ventricles cause the heart to beat faster than normal and out of sync with the upper chambers. When this happens, the heart usually is not able to pump enough blood to your body and the heart does not have time to fill properly.
- Symptoms that I suffer from: fainting, light-headedness, palpitations, a feeling of being choked and chest pains.
- How I am being treated for this: medication.
POTS – Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome – ongoing illness
- Definition: a form of orthostatic intolerance that is associated with the presence of excessive tachycardia and many other symptoms upon standing.
- Symptoms that I suffer from: light-headedness and dizziness when I change postures from standing to sitting, or vice versa, inability to stand for long periods of time, blood pooling in the lower extremities and tachycardia when changing posture.
- How I am being treated for this: medication and compression socks that go from my toes up to my stomach to push the blood upwards.
- Self-management: change posture slowly and train the body to be able to stand for longer periods of time. Start by standing up 20 minutes non-stop for a week and gradually increase it to an hour.
- Interesting fact: POTS affects more women than men with a female-to-male ratio of 5:1
Dysautonomia – ongoing illness
- Definition: dysautonomia is an umbrella term used to describe several different medical conditions that cause a malfunction of the autonomic nervous system. The autonomic nervous system controls the “automatic” functions of the body that we do not consciously think about, such as heart rate, blood pressure, digestion, dilation and constriction of the pupils of the eye, kidney function and temperature control. People with dysautonomia are unable to regulate these systems that result in problems.
- Symptoms that I suffer from: POTS, all forms of tachycardia listed above, vomiting, acid reflux, rashes, light-headedness, severe drop in blood pressure and extreme fatigue.
- There is no cure for dysautonomia. I am being treated based on my symptoms.
- Interesting fact: this syndrome affects multiple organs, and for me it all comes at the same time. Typically, it starts with tachycardia, followed by a severe drop in blood pressure, then vomiting and acid reflux and lastly extreme fatigue. Most patients take years to get diagnosed due to lack of awareness regarding this syndrome.