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Wolff-Parkinson-White Pic

You might be wondering what a page about Wolff-Parkinson-White, WPW, is doing on a basketball website. The answer is simple; I had a life-threatening experience playing basketball because of Wolff-Parkinson-White.

Before I tell you my story, here are a couple of systems I noticed looking back on it:

  • An extremely rapid heart rate
  • Brought on by very minimal physical activity (like running up one flight of stairs)
  • No pause between heart beats (usually two beats, then a pause, but not when WPW acted up)
  • Sudden decrease back to normal heart rate of a rapid heart rate
  • Light-headedness and vision blacking out, almost to the point of passing out

My Experience with Wolff-Parkinson-White (WPW)

Here's what happened. In September 2009, at the age of 28, I was lucky enough to have a job that didn't require set hours, so I was able to go play basketball on my lunch hour at times when big projects weren't due and I had no meetings. Anyways, I went and played basketball one day at lunch, which I had been doing for probably four or five months already, so I wasn't in horrible shape. The FIRST time down the court, my heart started racing. It wasn't really to the point that I felt I should sit out, but it did slow me down and concerned me a little bit.

I was able to continue to play, but luckily my team lost so I sat out a game or two on this day. I was able to finish playing, and then had a chiropractor appointment right before heading back to work (a broken tailbone from high school causes some minor back problems for me). Everything seemed normal until I got up from the chair to go into the doctor's office. As soon as I walked in the door my vision "blacked in" on me, and then opened up again. I didn't pass out or anything, I just couldn't see for a second.

So I finish up my chiropractor appointment and think, okay, I didn't eat a whole lot today, maybe I just need to get some calories in me (see the athlete nutrition pages for calorie intake tips) and some water. So I go back to work, go to our cafeteria for some food, and let my boss know that something doesn't feel right. He comes back to check on me a little while later and says my eyes were glazed over and I was extremely pale. So he calls over the initial work emergency response team, and here's the key points you'll want to start paying attention to:

My blood pressure was NORMAL, but my PULSE was not. My pulse was at 180 bpm, hours after playing basketball. The normal resting pulse rate for adults over 18 years old is 60-100 beats per minute (for children 70-100). I was well above this. So they called the professional EMTs who also came and took my vitals. Again, my blood pressure was normal, but pulse was high. They took my pulse every two minutes from then: The first couple of times it was still up around 180, then, 2 minutes later, it dropped to 100. This prompted their attention...your heart rate should NOT change that much, that fast.


This required a rather embarrassing trip to the emergency room since I was hauled off on a stretcher in front of a ton of co-workers. They did all kinds of blood work and hooked me up to all kinds of heart monitors, including an ECG/EKG (electrocardiograph). As soon as they saw the results, they knew exactly what it was: Wolff-Parkinson-White. Essentially an extra nerve in your heart causing extra electronic impulses that make your heart beat more than it should. In my case, my heart rate had gone above 200 bpm, and did cause some damage, but I was lucky, WPW can cause sudden death.

So, now the doctors told me until I do something about this, no physical activity, especially basketball. This wasn't happening; you know from the pages on this site that I love basketball. So, what to do to fix it? Two choices: take pills for the rest of my life, that MIGHT work, or have minimally invasive heart surgery to remove the extra nerve. I opted for heart surgery...

Basically they went in through some veins and arteries through my groin and then also through my shoulder, so they didn't have to open up my chest or anything and I have minimal scarring. They then cauterized the extra nerve (known as the Bundle of Kent) through catheter ablation. I was up and around the same day, but moving very slow and lying down as much as possible. Then I was back to work the next week (I had surgery on Thursday and was back to work by Monday).

The best part, though, was being back on the basketball court between 3 and 4 weeks later. And, I'm happy to say that I went back in May of 2010 for a follow-up and I'm completely cured! That means more basketball, and more basketball at full speed!

So now that I've told my experience with Wolff-Parkinson-White, here's some more information about it...

Wolff-Parkinson-White (WPW) General Information

Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome is a syndrome from birth that many people may never know they have. It's very rare, as it only affects between .9% and 3% of the population. For those that have it, there's also a rare chance of it causing sudden death (less than .6%) chance).

An extra pathway, known as the Bundle of Kent, with electronic impulses develops in the heart, and sometimes bypasses the normal pathway for a normal heart beat that regulates and slows the heart. Looking back, this makes sense, as when my heart would race irregularly, there didn't seem to be any pause between the beats.

It often goes undetected unless symptoms appear (like the accelerated heart rate) because it is detected with an echocardiogram (ECG/EKG), which isn't a part of any routine physicals due to the extremely low percentage of the population with this ailment. Portland Trailblazers player LeMarcus Aldridge wasn't diagnosed with this until he was in the NBA, during the end of the 2006-2007 season. The EKG shows extra activity in the form of an extra "uptick" not normally seen in a normal EKG.

There are two forms of treatment, prescription medication designed to regulate heart rates, and the surgery that I had, called catheter ablation, in which a specialized cardiac surgeon destroys the extra pathway by cauterizing it. I opted for the surgery, and HIGHLY RECOMMEND this form of treatment. I was out of the hospital the same day, back to work 4 days after, and back to playing basketball 4 weeks later. I haven't had any problems since the surgery, and my heart's stronger than it has been all of my life.

This was my story and a quick overview. If you have concerns that you or your child may have Wolff-Parkinson-White (WPW), please do some additoinal research...
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Basketball Conditioning
You or your child most likely don't have WPW, but if you or their heart rate is a little high, you can improve that by having some better conditioning.

About the Author
BBT&T author, Shawn Baune, had WPW, learn more about the site owner here.

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