KANSAS CITY, Mo. — February is American Heart Month. One mother and son are hoping to raise awareness about a lesser-known condition called Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome, or WPW.
Those who have WPW are born with it, with many learning about the condition before they graduate high school.
While WPW can be corrected, it can still be scary for families like Taylor Cates. She got a phone call from her now 10-year-old son’s school back in August 2021. Jake Cates was playing football with his friends when his heartrate skyrocketed.
“When we first got to the ER with him, he had a heart rate of 329 beats per minute,” Taylor said.
A team of doctors and nurses met them with a crash cart and shock pads, quickly taking young Jake away.
“I could see, just like, the sensation of it,” Taylor said. “His shirt literally moving on the outside of his chest on the way there.”
A cardiologist diagnosed Jake with Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome the next day, but what is it? Well, we’re all born with a single electrical pathway that makes our heart’s top chamber beat first followed by the bottom chamber.
“And when you have WPW, you have an extra electrical circuit, so that the heart can short circuit. So, instead of going 60 to 100 beats a minute, the heart can go twice that fast, three times that fast, up to 250 beats a minute or so,” added Dr. Rhea Pimentel, a cardiologist with the University of Kansas Health System.
That’s exactly what happened to Jake. Fortunately, WPW can easily be fixed with an ablation, a common procedure that finds where the extra electrical signal is located and then burns it with a special catheter within 4 millimeters.
“If you can go up into the heart and find this electrical pathway and basically buzz it, kill it, then the patient won’t ever have this again,” Pimentel said.
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WPW has a 5% chance of returning. If it doesn’t come back in the first month, it’ll likely never return.
However, Jake’s returned a month later, so he had to undergo a second operation for two additional electrical circuits, which doctors said didn’t show up the first time. However, 13 months after that procedure, Jake is doing just fine and is back to doing normal kid things like football, baseball, and running and jumping around.