Alex: “Back in the swim of things”
Later this summer, 20-year-old Alex will swim against the planet’s best young athletes, at the World University Games in Bangkok, Thailand. And about one year from now, he’ll try to make the U.S. swim team for the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.
In between all that, he’ll be fitting in his senior year at the University of Michigan — juggling his studies with intense training and competition. As the reigning national college champion in the 400-meter individual medley, he’ll be a force to contend with.
But just a few months ago, all of these possibilities were in jeopardy.
It started with the occasional sensation that his heart was racing during practice last fall. But one Friday in January, during a meet, it turned into something more serious. Though Alex managed to complete his legs of two relays, when it came time to swim an individual event he finished dead last. He told the trainer he couldn’t catch his breath.
An electrocardiogram revealed a serious heart-rhythm irregularity: a condition called Wolff-Parkinson-White (WPW) syndrome. Caused by an extra electrical circuit between the upper and lower parts of the heart, it can cause a rapid heartbeat and in some cases, sudden cardiac death. For an athlete of Alex’s caliber, it’s a serious threat.
Fortunately, Alex happened to be swimming for the university that also has one of the best treatment programs for WPW.
The U-M Arrhythmia and Electrophysiology team has extensive experience in diagnosing and treating all types of irregular heartbeats, and is a national destination for patients.
For Alex, and for many other patients, the best option is a catheter-based procedure called radiofrequency ablation. It’s performed by threading a thin probe through the bloodstream and into the heart, and then using radio waves to “zap” the area where the abnormal electrical activity originates.
The result: a complete cure, with minimal recuperation time.
In fact, two weeks to the day after Alex’s EKG, he was back in the pool and training for the next meet. Two months later, he claimed his NCAA title and helped his team to a better-than-expected finish.
And now, with Bangkok in his sights and Beijing on the horizon, there’s no stopping him.