Posted by Brigham and Women's Hospital August 6, 2013
Imagine being diagnosed with a medical condition that could force you to give up your lifelong passion. Seven years ago, Mike Cataldo was faced with that very situation. A former member of the U.S. rowing team who has competed in hundreds of races, Mike was preparing for the Head of the Charles Regatta in Cambridge, an event that attracts rowers worldwide.
“I was training for my first singles event, and the workouts were pretty intense,” says Mike, who has been rowing since he was a teenager. “I noticed that I was getting abnormally high readings on my heart rate monitor. Initially, I thought that the monitor was defective, but a new one gave me the same high numbers.”
Indeed, his monitor was registering numbers as high as 190 beats per minute, far above his typical training rate of 140 beats per minute, and an electrocardiogram (EKG) revealed heart rates over 225 beats per minute. A stress test verified that Mike had atrial tachycardia, a type of cardiac arrhythmia or heart rhythm disturbance that originates in the upper chambers of the heart and causes the heart to beat too fast.
Cardiac arrhythmias can cause heart palpitations, lightheadedness, shortness of breath, fainting, and a range of other symptoms that can impact quality of life. They can be life threatening in some cases and increase risks of stroke or heart failure. For Mike, his arrhythmia also was a serious safety concern, where losing consciousness while he was training or competing on the water was dangerous. “I knew I needed to find a way to fix this problem, as I simply wasn’t willing to stop doing what I loved,” he says.
Mike went to see Dr. Laurence Epstein, chief of the Cardiac Arrhythmia Service at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH), who performed a catheter ablation procedure to treat the specific area of Mike’s heart that was causing his heart rhythm issues. Just one month later, Mike competed in the men’s senior-master’s singles division in the Head of the Charles Regatta.
Cardiac ablation is an option for patients whose arrhythmias do not respond adequately to treatment with medication or when medication is not considered as safe or appropriate.
Now 51 years old, Mike can still be found training on the Charles River, where he placed 3rd in the Grand Master Single event in the Head of the Charles Regatta last year. He even competes with his son, placing first in the parent/child doubles event for the past four years. “I feel great, and I am looking forward to my next race,” says Mike.
– Jessica F.