Samantha Wald was in the middle of delivering her second baby before any doctors took her heart condition seriously, but she had been having symptoms since age 13. As a teen, she often felt her heart racing for no explainable reason.
“It would go from a normal pulse of 60 up to 180. I saw a specialist and wore a Holter monitor for several days [to record ECG], but they didn’t see anything happen while I wore it. It never put me in the hospital, so I just lived with it,” she said.
During her first pregnancy in 2013, Wald’s symptoms became more frequent. But when she brought her concerns to her doctor, her symptoms were dismissed because “they were probably pregnancy-related.”
It wasn’t until 2017, during another pregnancy, that Wald started seeing a cardiologist for these episodes.
“It would happen very often, and I would feel completely winded and exhausted. I would feel like I was going to blackout,” she said.
While she was in labor and hooked up to the heart monitor machines, she had another episode. For the first time, doctors could see what was happening to her heart. Wald was experiencing Supraventricular tachycardia (SVT).
SVT is an abnormally fast heartbeat that includes a variety of heart rhythm problems. It’s a condition that can range from being mild — with minimal disruption to an individual’s lifestyle — to severe, where the patient requires constant monitoring and medication. According to the US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, more than 2 million Americans currently suffer from SVT.
For Wald, having SVT during labor was a blessing in disguise because it brought attention to her condition, but it also sent her to the ICU immediately after birth.
“When my heart races, my blood pressure drops. They could slow my heart rate down with medication but it wouldn’t stay down, so I was in the ICU while my baby was with my husband,” she said.
When she returned home, doctors prescribed a beta-blocker to control her heart rate, but it made her so tired and lethargic that she was unable to take care of her kids. Wald had to stop taking the medication. Soon, her symptoms worsened again. She experienced SVTs when she was not pregnant or doing abnormal activities.
“We couldn’t figure out what triggered it. It would happen when I was just sitting still enjoying a movie. I was finally referred to an electrologist,” she said.
After years of questions, Wald finally had treatment options. Now, she has twice gone through a catheter ablation that uses electric energy to neutralize the heart tissue causing SVT. And she has a surgically-implanted Linq II cardiac monitor that records her heart rate and sends results to an app on her phone and to her specialist.
While her condition is not cured, Wald now has a monitor to record symptoms and a plan for future treatment. A busy mom, Wald cares for her own four children while fostering two additional children.
Managing heart health during military life
Getting treatment for a heart condition can be confusing for any patient, but it is especially difficult for a military family member. Wald scheduled ablations around her Marine husband’s deployments and trainings, so he would be home to take care of their children.
When his PCS orders sent them from Virginia to Arizona, she needed a new cardiologist. During their PCS move, she researched hospitals to find the best specialist and decided to drive from Yuma, Arizona, to San Diego, California for treatment.
Getting referrals through TRICARE can be another frustrating challenge for military families with heart conditions. Thankfully, it was not an obstacle for Wald.
“TRICARE has been great through this process. If I ran out of visits because it was being triggered more often, I contacted TRICARE directly and they would put in an extra referral. TRICARE has covered all my equipment, which includes both implants and monitors since I got a replacement device when the battery died after three years,” she explained.
Be your own heart health advocate
For years, Wald accepted that her symptoms were normal, or just a part of pregnancy. She wished she had prioritized her health sooner instead of ignoring her condition.
“Now I google everything and want to be educated on it and learn all the risks. I know the best-case scenarios and the worst-case scenarios. I want to know every possible detail that can help me,” she said.
Wald encourages other military spouses to listen to their own bodies.
“You really need to stand up for yourself. Prioritize your health,” she added.