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American Heart Month: Cave City resident shares story of ASD

After first being told she was only experiencing anxiety, Tiffany Sturgeon Taylor was diagnosed with two Atrial Septal Defects and underwent heart surgery. Photo submitted

Mary Beth Sallee
Jobe Publishing, Inc.

From birth and throughout her childhood, Tiffany Sturgeon Taylor was always diagnosed by doctors as having severe asthma. She experienced constant issues with breathing, passing out, and feeling dizzy and disoriented. But little did Tiffany know that her symptoms were indications of a much more serious health issue.

“2020 was the year that changed my life,” Tiffany said.

It was the year of COVID, and one day in February of 2020 as Tiffany was driving, she found herself experiencing a medical episode. She was alone.

“Immediately my arms, mouth, and tongue went numb,” she recalled. “I pulled over and called 911.”

While in the ambulance, Tiffany was told that she was in atrial fibrillation (AFib). According to the American Heart Association, AFib is a “…quivering or irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia) that can lead to blood clots, stroke, heart failure, and other heart-related complications.”

But despite being in AFib during the ambulance ride, Tiffany said that this “…didn’t seem to matter to the hospital I was brought to.” She instead was diagnosed with having anxiety due to the worries of COVID.

“I knew it was wrong and something wasn’t right,” Tiffany said. “I saw several doctors and was passed off as the same thing: anxiety.”

When Tiffany found her now family physician, she described it as being a saving grace.

“She cared and wasn’t just trying to pass me off as another anxiety case due to COVID,” Tiffany said of a doctor who finally listened. “She sent me to see Dr. Roy, a cardiologist in Bowling Green. He immediately started to run tests the same day I saw him.”

The tests showed that Tiffany’s heart echocardiogram wasn’t normal. She was then sent for a transesophageal echocardiogram (TEE), which assesses the structure and function of the heart by inserting a probe down the esophagus. This provides a much more clearer image of the heart than a regular echocardiogram.

Through the TEE procedure, it was determined that Tiffany’s heart issue was an Atrial Septal Defect (ASD).

An Atrial Septal Defect is a hole or opening in the septum of the heart that separates the top two chambers of the heart. If the ASD is a larger hole, the extra blood that is being pumped into the lung arteries can make both the heart and lungs work harder. Because of this, the lung arteries can gradually become damaged. Source: American Heart Association Website.

The American Heart Association website states that an ASD is “…an opening or hole (defect) in the wall (septum) that separates the top two chambers of the heart (atria).”

“After seeing the issue was an ASD, I was sent the same week to Nashville,” Tiffany said. “I went through a cardiac MRI. With this, we found out I had two ASDs. The cardiac surgeon was completely shocked and had never seen this before, especially in a 34-year-old. They couldn’t believe this had been missed for so long with my issues.”

Due to the size of the holes of the ASDs and that the holes had been in Tiffany’s heart since birth, the surgeon in Nashville was unable to place the regular mesh that is usually used for the surgery.

“The same day, I was sent to another surgeon in which could and did preform my surgery,” Tiffany explained. “He corrected the two ASDs, (performed) a Maze procedure due to all of the atrial fibrillation episodes I was having, and a bovine pericardium was placed.”

Although the diagnosis came as a shock and caused somewhat of a rollercoaster ride for Tiffany, she said she is now “doing great.” Tiffany is currently taking maintenance medication for her heart condition and is enjoying life one day at a time.

Reporter’s Note: Fluttering and palpitations are the main symptoms of AFib. However, many other heart problems have similar warning signs. If you think you may be having a heart attack, DO NOT DELAY. Call 911 immediately. Please consult your physician for any and all heart health concerns.


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