My name is Jacob Li. I am 16. I surf, snowboard and play on my high school’s JV Basketball team. I volunteer in the community teaching kids how to play basketball.
I am one of 171 teens screened through the Eric Paredes Save A Life Foundation who had a heart abnormality which puts us at risk of Sudden Cardiac Arrest. Mine was called Wolff-Parkinsons-White. In non-medical terms it meant I had extra electric pathways in my heart telling it to sometimes beat abnormally fast.
The Eric Paredes Save A Life Foundation hosts a free teen heart screenings every year. My story is just one of the more than 20,000 teens who have been screened over the past 6 years.
Most teens don’t show any symptoms until it’s too late. I always thought I just wasn’t a good runner. Everyone else on the team was faster. I got so out of breath in each game, but I just assumed that everyone was in better shape than me. My heart would beat so fast even after practice was long over. I thought it was just me.
But sometimes my heart would start racing when I wasn’t doing anything, just sitting on the couch watching TV. How would I know that this isn’t normal?
When the symptoms slowly got worse. My parents got worried. I wasn’t really worried, it was just uncomfortable and prevented me from playing. Soon it seemed I was always out of breath and my pulse would race for a half hour after practice. Mom thought maybe I was drinking too much Gatorade or soda. So I started only taking water to practice. The pediatrician suspected asthma. But an inhaler didn’t help. My symptoms persisted.
One of my mom’s friends told her about a colleague, Dr. Rogers, who leads an organization that provides teen heart screenings. So Mom signed me up.
The day of the screening I was taken to the EKG room. The EKG screening took maybe 10 minutes. It was really easy. But a nurse told me that I needed another test. Other kids weren’t being asked to do a second test, so I was a little scared…
After the second test, Dr. Rogers told me that I have something called Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome. It’s better known as WPW.
Most people have two electrical pathways which send signals to the heart telling it to beat. A third one confuses the system often causing the heart to race for no reason and can cause sudden cardiac arrest. This pathway can get activated sometimes during sports or just on it’s own.
So I wasn’t out of shape. I needed heart surgery. I wasn’t prepared to deal with this. I wanted to know if I could still play basketball before the surgeon fixed my heart. Would this mean I couldn’t play in the next game? Could I even go to practice? Once the surgery was scheduled the doctor said it would probably be fine to go ahead with the game. Just be cautious and not overdo it.
My parents watched me like hawks – even more than normal.
While we met with the doctors and prepared for the surgery, I continued to practice and play basketball. Basketball is normal for me. It was something that I could put my energy into. I could work out my fear and frustration on the court. At practice I could be normal.
The surgery went well – but what was really amazing is that the doctors saw I had two extra pathways. One wasn’t even detected on the EKG. Even one day after the surgery I felt so much better – as though there was never anything wrong. My heart doesn’t race like it used to. I don’t lose my breath like I used to. Now I can do anything without worrying.
But it was a big deal to go through it all and I hope my story helps other kids to get screened and lets the ones who have a heart condition know that there are a lot of us who know what it’s like.