Victor Wiggins and life with Transposition of the Great Arteries (TGA)
Victor has had to face up to having irregular heartbeats which were needed monitoring. Read how he got through it.
Hello. My name is Victor. In October 1970 I was born with Transposition of the Great Arteries. I guess like most parents mine were shocked to learn that their child was seriously ill. Perhaps a little less commonly, I was born on an Island in the middle of the Irish Sea, the Isle of Man. Whilst the level of care on the Island has increased over the years, children being born with heart conditions all have to be treated off Island, usually at Liverpool. I was no exception and within hours of being born I was flown to Liverpool and taken to the Royal Liverpool Children’s Hospital. I count my birthday as being a very lucky day indeed as the weather was fair and visibility was such that a plane could take off and ultimately land in the UK. Had the weather been somewhat different the outcome may well have been an entirely different one.
I am not really sure of the exact details of what went on in the first few hours but I do know that I was cyanosed from birth and given an emergency procedure on the evening of my arrival, by way of a septostomy. My oxygen went from 21% to 64% saturation, not overly brilliant but enough to keep me ticking over!
On the 7th January 1971 I had a cyanotic attack and the doctors basically said that if I didn’t have a Mustard operation I would not survive. They were very frank with my parents and said that my chances were slim as few of these operations had been done at this time on babies my age.
So a little over a month later I was operated on and apart from a hick up with a bacterial infection I was well.
I am sure that 2nd April 1971 was one of celebration at home as it was the day I was allowed to see my home for the first time. My eldest sister was very happy, it was her birthday the following day, so she considered having her baby brother home quite a treat.My life was quite ordinary from that point, of course like all children with this heart condition there were things I wasn’t able to do as fast as other kids, but in the main I partook in most sports and grew fit and strong.
When I was about 12 my Mother noticed that I was getting really quite tired and having trouble concentrating at school, so she mentioned this at one of our regular check up appointments. By this time I had started riding motorbikes off road, I am sure to the eye brow raising response of my cardiologists. But I did some events for fund raising of the hospital so in the main they didn’t give me too much grief on this point! Joking aside its probably one of the best things I could have done. It was a relatively low impact sport that kept me fit and one that by my own admission I became quite accomplished at, leading me to several championship wins and to some low key sponsorship. I will be forever grateful and indebted to my parents for the support and encouragement they gave me to pursue what I loved.
Anyway back to the check up…. The docs agreed that perhaps all was not well and decided to do a catheter to see what might be going on with the old ticker. As it turned out the original “conversion” needed some much needed attention, so after some discussions with doctors and my parents, it was decided I was to be booked in for a repair job, this happened in Jan 84. The operation was a great success and within 6 weeks I was back competing in my chosen sport of motorcycle trials riding and winning!
I guess in terms of my heart it was business as usual for the next 20 or so years. I had check ups along the way and apart from being started on a drug to help the right ventricle not to have so much pressure on it, all was well.
I had moved to New Zealand from home in 2003 and two years later I found myself riding a mountain bike at a company day out. I had always ridden mountain bikes so there nothing unordinary about that. I had to go as fast as I could around an obstacle course, set on the side of a slope. When I reached the finish line I felt really out of breath and could feel my heart was pounding in my chest. I realised pretty quickly that my heart had decided to go nuts, although I had no idea what was wrong. It wasn’t until the medical staff told me later that I was in an arrhythmia, called a Supra Ventricular Tachycardia, or SVT for short. It was very frightening and I truly thought my number was up. I was taken to hospital after a 45 minute ambulance ride. Unfortunately the doctors struggled to get me out of it but after some pretty potent drugs the heart rate began to slow, although I never felt quite right! Just over a day later, whilst in hospital I was in the bathroom just about to go to bed and the same thing happened again. This time there was no choice but to put me to sleep and electrically restart my heart into a normal rhythm. Again quite a scary proposition, being sent to sleep while your heart is not in a happy place!
The good news was that they got me back into rhythm first time, but really that was the start of my troubles, not the end. Not so much from my heart but psychologically, the events had left a large scar on my mind
Like a lot of people with heart conditions I get ectopic beats, but I had never really noticed them. I became really very aware of all the heart beats and could over night feel any slight weird beat. This in turn made me very anxious for almost 18 months, when eventually I was put on a drug to control these “bumps”. For the past 2 yrs I have slowly been rebuilding my life and my confidence. As with all congenital heart patients I am closely monitored.
The entire episode had some collateral damage too. It affected my relationship with my wife and we have now sadly parted ways. It caused me to move jobs as I really wasn’t confident to travel on my own with the role I was doing at the time. All these things were activities, which I, like 99% of the population never gave a second thought to, but at one point I was even too scared to climb a flight of stairs!
So life is getting back on track, I have had to curtail my enthusiasm for some things, mainly adrenalin seeking activities, but life is all about adjustment and adapting to the here and now. It took me some time to do that, but with the amazing support of the cardiology team and some great friends I have come a long way.
Thanks for reading about me and the story so far!
If you would like to contact Victor, please email firstname.lastname@example.org who will pass on your messages to him
Written specifically for CHD-UK by Victor Wiggins