Dan Pak’s Story

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Dan Pak’s Story

Dan’s Story

Help us tell your story to our Heart Institute Family

1. A bit about you, age occupation, interest, family, where you live.
I’m 52 and a civil servant with the Government of Canada. I’ve held several jobs from IT support, Risk Management analyst and Team Lead of the Risk Management group. I have a wide variety of interests, from

• amateur photography,
• huge geek of comiccon (I don’t do cosplay), but love meeting stars and attending their Q/A’s,
• overall techie/geek so totally into gadgets whether it be for everyday or to enhance our activities

I’m generally an outdoors person from walking (dog included),
• running,
• snowshoe running (road & trail),
• snow boarding,
• hiking,
• cycling.
• HIIT workouts

I’m a father of two girls age 20 & 17 and I’ve been married for 24 years and 2021 is going to be our 25th anniversary. I grew up in Thunder Bay, ON and have moved from Peterborough, Toronto and settled in Ottawa in 1996 and live currently in the west end of Ottawa in Sttisville.

2. Your heart history, family history, previous diagnosis, concerns.
Throughout my life I have never known or was aware I had any heart issues. I did have high blood pressure/hypertension, but I did manage it with diet and exercise and then eventually it went out of control. (leads into the next question)

3. First visit/why you came to the Heart Institute, results. Feel free to include names of doctors/nurses/technicians that stand out to you.

I took this from my blog: https://ottpak.blogspot.com

So about a month before race weekend I was helping my youngest shop for clothes and makeup for her dance recital. Our last stop was at Shoppers Drug Mart and I technically did not need to assist in choosing makeup so I decided to walk around the store and I came across the Blood pressure machine…hmm I think I’ll test my blood pressure. I haven’t done that in ages! So I sat down hit the magic button and boom! 196/119 OMG that can’t be right! I’ll just walk around the store and try again in a few minutes. I went back for my 2nd reading…205/117 WTH! So I came home and talked to Kiera and she basically said call the doc and get checked out! This was on a Sunday. So two days later I got in and saw my GP and it took him five tries before he got me on the 5th attempt to lie down and see that my BP was way too high! This was puzzling, as he knows that I am an endurance runner and I do a lot of activities. If you know me and follow me on Strava than you pretty much have seen my activities there or on any of the other social media channels! So of course he started me on my 1st blood pressure medication. My first prescription to lower my BP was done and was filled that day. So I started taking the medication at 1/2 dose and if it didn’t lower within a week I was to take the full dose. After a week my BP did not go down drastically so I upped the dose to the full tablet. A month past and I was to visit him again for an update. Nope still too high so onto medication #2 that same I received a call that I was going in for my fitness stress test at the University of Ottawa Heart Institute. This was on the 29th of June just before Canada day. So I went to the Heart Institute for a fitness stress test since my doc recommended I go and get one done since I have high blood pressure. Well that 30 min test turned into a 2 hr consultation as I have been diagnosed with Atrial Fibrillation (AFib).
It’s fairly common in older people, but for me it’s not so common. It’s my electrical system that’s sending erratic signals to my heart and making it “flutter” and could cause a disruption in the blood flow and could cause a stroke.
I was like WHAT! As the docs are grilling me on symptoms do you have dizzy spells, headaches, thyroid and a whole gamut of issues and I’m like no I don’t get these symptoms.
So they left and consulted with several other experts at the heart institute and then upon their return :”they” are lumping me into the category of potential stroke which shocked the hell out of me. The discussion was long and a lot of denial on my part, but the evidence was clear on the ECG that I have a positive test and I need to act. So onto medication #3 and #4. That’s right four pills!
I mentioned that I had a race on the weekend a simple 5K. As well a trail race that month. They definitely did NOT want me to do the trail race! So I bartered for the 5K race. They hesitated and allowed me if I promised to walk it. Of course this was the weekend with the super high humidity and crazy extreme heat.
So on Canada Day I walked the 5k and they said they were ok so a guy who doesn’t regularly take meds I was put on two new meds in addition to the two for high BP. A blood thinner and a beta-blocker.
So my training and running is somewhat on hold but I’m trying to stay active but at a much reduced volume and intensity.
After wallowing for about two weeks and trying to track my BP and maintain some schedule of the meds I’m on. The beta blocker (BB), blood thinner (BT) and the BP meds. So I chunked it out to one of the BP in the morning with the BT and then the other BP/BT in the evening. It kind of worked for the most part. I definitely felt an immediate impact as I was trying to do my normal activities and definitely running was extremely hard as the BB kept me from pushing my HR higher. The meds were definitely doing their job as well as really holding me back which they were supposed to.
So fast-forward to the morning of July 17th and this is where the story unfolds. I got to work at my usual time and of course I car pool so I had my SUV. I’m at work checking emails and I’m texting with one of the work wives. We were chatting and as I was also responding to emails I was feeling a bit off. My HR rate dipped down to around the 30s. Keep in mind that I’m a person who rarely takes medication so the side effects were huge to me! Dizziness and lightheaded are on the top of the list. I mentioned to her that I felt light headed and of course her “momming” me meant a call home. Of course Kiera goes call the pharmacist, pharmacist said hmm sounds like your BB is giving you problems. Keep in mind the BB was only half a tablet so half dose once a day. He then directs me to call my GP. My GP was too busy so the nurse takes my call and says what your describing sounds like you are having heart issues similar to that of a cardiac arrest. OK now I call back the wife and basically she tells me to head to the ER but what do I do? Yep you guessed it I drove home. Yes in retrospect probably not the brightest idea even after telling my boss he recommended if it got worse to pull over and call 911. BUT I made it home and we went to the QCH ER.
If you haven’t been to their ER well it was under construction so it was a tad confusing to start. You had to check in with your health card then you sat while you waited to be called to the triage room. I was told to sit in the blue chair and not the other colour chair. I don’t really know what that means, but I guess it meant that I would be called sooner? No clue.
I wasn’t long in that room before I got called in and they took my vitals.
From what I can read on my ER report temp 36.5 and my HR was around 46. I told the nurse or rather she saw my meds and the blood thinner I was on she goes to me…”Do you have Atrial Fibrillation?” I’m like whoa you got that from all four of my meds. She goes “It’s the Eliquus, that’s the giveaway.” hmm. obviously it must be used a lot around there. I had those taken and then got sent back out to the waiting room. However, I wasn’t there long before I made it to a bed where they can connect me up with every tab for the heart machine.
Well there you go full disclosure and my vitals in full Technicolor! After that episode I was instructed by the ER doc after consultation with the QCH cardiologist that I was to stop taking the BB. After two hours of monitoring and instructions to check my HR/pulse and since I was still full of the BB even the ER doc couldn’t find it as it was so faint.
Four meds down to three and I’m still sucking wind trying to find fitness and stay healthy and fit. It is definitely a struggle.
I met with my electrophysiolgist for the first time. I am very impressed at the turnaround I have been receiving since being diagnosed with Atrial Fibrillation.
The meeting started with his nurse (Aseel?) who I met when I took the Atrial Fibrillation Class back on the 9th when I first learned that the Ottawa Heart Institute held these information sessions.
A bit of a side bar since I didn’t post about this as it was held in their main auditorium at the UOHI that the class is for anyone wanting to learn more about this Arrhythmia condition and the symptoms, diagnosis and potential way forwards.
I felt like the youngest if not the youngest in the crowd, but worthwhile session. However, I digress.
After my discussion with the intake nurse and going over family history and some of the medications and history thus far since the positive fitness test.
That was at least 30+ minutes of reviewing and notes on what my lifestyle was like at home, work and extra-curricular activities.
Once that interview was done I met Dr. Mehrdad Golian. This would be the cardiologist assigned to me to go over my options.
So here they are with how they were presented.

1. Do nothing and continue with the medications I am on and pretty much deal/live with the arrythmia (AFib)
2. Add another medicine to control my arrythmia, but at another consequence of side effects.
3. Proceed with an Ablation

The discussion was pretty much decided for me going into the appointment. However, there are always risks when you opt in for an invasive procedure as well as this is your main organ that keeps you alive!

So after some more discussion and of course more tests I asked to be put on the list for the procedure. In the meantime, I was to be schedule for and in no particular order:
• Thyroid blood test
• CT scan
• Echocardiogram
• Sleep Apnea test
Yep more testing to figure out where I am with this AFib. I’ll put some links below on my cardiologist and what is Electrophysiology.
Fast forward to my Ablation. December 6, 2018 is a new milestone in my life. I opted to do something different. Well that doesn’t sound totally different about me, but it was life changing along this journey.

When I was diagnosed I was left with choices. Choices that would change the direction of my lifestyle of fitness and the goals I wanted to achieve. As you’ve been following me along this journey you know this was the right choice for me. It may not be the right choice for others that suffer from Atrial Fibrillation or Atrial Flutter, but to me it was the right choice. So having a premiere facility like the University of Ottawa Heart Institute and its many advancements in technology I knew I would be in the hands of professionals.
My day started out early as I had to be at the Heart Institute by 6:30am

I was given instructions to not bring any valuables and to only wear loose clothing to leave in as the hospital would provide me with a “robe” and “slippers”. Yeah the robe…the typical open gown you tie with straps. Slippers…well yeah they were just boot covers. Well let’s just say they tried to up sell the apparel.
We arrived nice and early at 1st floor and follow the green hearts.

Well we weren’t the only ones following the green hearts as there seemed to be quite the waiting room of people to get into the Day Unit. Of course it was well after 6:30a until one lady made arrived and announced that only patients were allowed in, but needed their health card and prescriptions ready. I must have been the fourth person in a line of maybe eight or more.

Once I presented my card and provided my address and date of birth I was weighed and measured…again. I was then brought to a nice Lazy Boy and pretty much told to strip and put on my lovely robe and slippers! Yep those up sold hospital gown and booties.
I met my nurse Patricia who put my bracelets on and then confirmed my history and everything in her binder to make sure I was there for an Ablation and not something else. 😉
Then came the fun part. You guessed the groin shave! She asked if I did that and no I did not. The privilege was all hers! I’ll leave you with that image.😇
Next she put in a line for my IV for me.

Of course during that time my nerves were getting to me and I must have visited the washroom like three times. Until finally an orderly came to take me down to the Cath/EP lab. I said goodbye to Kiera gave her my glasses and away I went. So there will be no pictures from this point and only your imagination.
We travelled down a few hallways into the new wing of the Heart Institute where all the state of the art equipment was. It wasn’t very far, but as soon as we approached my final destination I was fitted with a lovely blue cap to wear for my procedure.
Once I arrived I met with several people. First up was Karen the nurse who had a special message for me from Kristin from my hometown who left specific instructions with Karen to take very good care of me…Aww Thanks Kristin! ♥
Then I met the attending anesthetist Ben then his supervisor which I can’t remember his name. Another radiologist, Caroline I think came to ask me questions. Eventually Karen came back and lowered the rails and said come on in! I’m like I have to walk to the operating table! Ok then!
Here I am in this very cold operating room with my “robe” and “slippers” and new found bathroom cap. I was stylin’
I get up the edge of the table and Karen says I need to wire you up so basically stripping me down and of course noticing the ink on my back. Anyhow, she warned me some of the strips would be cold. Oh man it was like having a bunch of ice thrown down your back. That type of feeling. there must have been a series of patches. I proceeded to get on to the table but it was a most bizarre table as it was slender and wider near my feet. Oh and before I go on the EP lab I was in wasn’t my physician’s normal room and he wasn’t too pleased with that. It’s interesting how doctors get a feel for equipment for their procedures. Anyhow, back to the table…it was apparently missing a piece so I had to sit up with all these wires hanging off me and of course naked and shivering as it was freezing. I got some warm blanket as they inserted the missing piece and I was able to lie back down. The sleep doc asked me a question about if I had kids and I said yes I have two teen daughters. His reply well sheesh no wonder why you have AFib!
His attendee started getting his line ready while I was still being wired up with all sorts of monitors.
The last thing I remember once they got all the monitors in place was I’m going to give you something to relax and bam I don’t remember a thing after that. All I know is that it was about 6+ hours for the procedure. They had to go through both sides of my groin, but they were able to isolate my veins, which meant they had a clear path to get to the left atria that was the cause of my AFib.

All I recall is being very groggy and I don’t know who it was they were calling me to wake up and squeeze someone’s hand. I don’t know what was going on, but I have some recollection of the breathing tube ext-abated and then no clue when I was wheeled into the recovery area. I do know Kiera and Mei-Ling were there, but I was so out of it I didn’t know what time it was or what was going on. I do recall moments of going in and out of consciousness as I had an oxygen mask on and recall asking for some pain meds as my chest was on fire. Kiera made sure they gave me something for it, but it must have helped as I passed out again. It seems whatever they gave me really knocked me out.
My nurse Mary Jane eventually encouraged me to try and sit up, but I wasn’t in the mood and had zero energy. She offered me a chicken salad sandwich but warned me to eat slowly since I was still weaning off the anesthesia and they didn’t want me to hurl. But it was nice to have some food and ginger ale, but my throat was still sore. Eventually the doctors came and checked on me, but before Kiera had to leave for her PT appointment. So they mentioned the procedure and answered most of her questions and mine, but basically off for a week and then maybe another week to 10 days and I’ll be ready to get back to my regular routines. I was shocked and more so Kiera to hear that I could return to my regular activities after a couple of weeks.
Once Kiera left I was alone until Mary Jane came and introduced Donna who would be my night nurse. Then Jaimie and Jay came to visit to keep me company. They even brought me a donut. We chatted and I got to hear Jaimie’s story of her Ablation. They kept me company as it was hard for me to carry on a conversation. It was nice to see some friendly faces other than nurses. Jaimie had to leave for an appointment.
I was trying to get some rest and then Taylor came to visit and also brought me a gift. I was surprised to see her as she no longer works at NRC, but we stay connected via FB. She brought messages from her coworkers and Shifawn and her man Dave. It was a nice visit and then the girls finally arrived. I had to explain what an Ablation was and how I got to where I was in the Heart Institute.
Once all the girls were ready to leave I asked my night nurse Donna for the happy drugs so it was a T3 and Toradol (sp) some anti-inflammatory that might take the edge off. It worked for a bit until about 3a and I needed another jolt. I have to say it wasn’t the best sleep, but I managed some despite the chest pain.

At some point DD18 posted on my IG and Snapchat

Of course it took some time to get back to sleep, but eventually I must have dozed off. Morning came and yet another new nurse, Diane, was pretty sure I was ready to go! Sadly the previous nurses failed to prepare me for my departure. Apparently I was to have a lesson on how to treat my wound and care for it while at home. Also after a visit from Dr. Simon Hansom he was supposed to remove my sutures, but forgot after he left my new card if anything should happen that I would show this card to anyone at a doctor or ER that they need to talk to my EP before doing anything.
Eventually a new doctor just happened to be passing by and was asked to remove my sutures…imagine my joy! Let me add rubbing alchol on sutured wounds in the groin area…not so fun! So after carful removal of the sutures I had fresh dressings applied and I was ready to have some breakfast!

Surprisingly breakfast was good, but I guess post surgery you’re only allowed to have a small amount of food so this was appropriate.
Last item before I was to be discharged was to have my ECG so before I was allowed to dress I had to wait for one final test to make sure my sinus rhythm was normal. The tech arrived and she was a joy as of course she was Asian and we joked around a lot as he applied more patches on me as she captured my ECG and from what I’m told it was normal. I joked that she should print out one and autograph it for me, but she wasn’t buying it. Oh well.
So Diane came back and said you’re clear to go and check out of Hotel Heart Institute.

It was nice to leave and get caught up on social media throughout my stay. In fact, my post on FB certainly triggered a lot of awareness and it seemed like I had thought I had shared my journey, but I’m new to this so hopefully people will catch on as continue to write.
Thanks for tuning in; sending well wishes; thoughts and prayers and I’ll keep posting on my recovery.

Most of what I put here was taken from my blog that I started: https://ottpak.blogspot.com/ I haven’t updated that blog in over a year

4. Procedure, care in the institute, rehab and programs. What was your rehab journey like during a pandemic?
The following posts on my blog were the first few weeks until a big jump to May.

But First Stress Test #3
This past Monday I was booked in for my, hopefully, last stress test. My last stress test was done when I was in Atrial flutter so the results were skewed and based on my activity it was hard to give me some solid foundation to build to work on in my recovery.
Usually I give myself plenty of time to get to the Heart Institute, but Monday must have been a major appointment day since I circled the lot and streets trying to find a spot. In fact I can’t fathom why they don’t let patients park on the side streets. Oh wait the residents don’t like cars in front of their home in front of a major medical institution that could save lives I ended up going to the Civic parking garage and getting Valet parking. Which really means leave the keys and when a spot opens up we’ll pull it in. No extra charge. It’s just insanity. I had five minutes to spare to make it to my appointment so I briskly walked form the Civic hospital to the Heart institute and made it up the stairs and overshot by a floor and had to double back and go back down to check in. I was definitely warmed up.
Registration took forever as some person was taking their time asking questions upon questions. I finally got registered and sat down. I’m sure I got the looks of me in my running gear especially a guy in compression calf sleeves were pretty sight! I bet!
I got called in right away and headed to the room. I met Bonnie the tech. and pretty much we got set up right away.
Oh and amidst all this I was doing an Instagram takeover of the Ottawa Marathon story so I shared A LOT of my day in that feed.
Similar to my test back in February it was a steady pace and incline every couple of minutes. My BP was like 154/100 when I started. I think that brisk walk and stair climbing gave me the white coat syndrome of high blood pressure! Oh wait I do have high blood pressure! 😲
Seriously it may have helped as I was pumped up to get going. I kept an eye on the screen and saw my time on the treadmill and notice my rhythm seemed steady so it was pretty good IMO.
I pushed myself as I wanted to know if I could hit the high heart rate to trigger any signs of V-tach. Of course I can’t tell, but there may be some, but I’m not someone who can read that sort of thing. I did push as far as my legs could go to about 12 mins. I know the incline was pretty high as my arms were pumping pretty good. By the time I called no joy I slowly came down and walked off and then limped my way to the bed to get rid of all the fun electrodes and belt off my body.

Once I finished sweating on the sheets I towelled off and headed back up to the Cardiac rehab to see my Physiotherapist Guy-Anne. This would be my last visit with her as my brief program is now up. I can say that she has been on my team right from day 1 to let my heart heal and take it easy. As well, I’m not one of her normal patients so I definitely challenged her. So the last visit I had to answer a few survey questions and then rate a score on the care. Also I had my stats taken, weight, BP, waist measurement. Once that was done I was given my blood work requisition and headed on my back to the parking garage where I had to go an pay but didn’t want to be one of those guys holding up the line when you forgot to pay before the exit.


5. Prognosis and next steps for you (monitoring)
As of July 2020 I’ve been given the “green” light that I’m essentially AFib free. Unless something is wrong I no longer have to see Dr. Golian. However I am participating in my 2nd study for the UOHI called the Ocean study which will see me change my medication to see if my blood thinner can be changed.

6. Family heart health – is it hereditary? Heart health care/research for your children.

I did find out that my father had AFib and did have a pacemaker installed in his seventies.
My kids are old enough and know enough, but they are aware of my families health issues, but so far they seem to be ok heart wise.

7. What were you able to do that you didn’t think you could after your bypass.
I didn’t have a bypass, but I was able to do all the things and I think I’m not the same runner. I have a new zest to be more supportive to people

8. What are you looking forward to doing with your gift of time.
I told another runner that I will continue to do all the things I can for as long as I can. Eventually I was told my AFib will come back and the cardiologist and I will decide on what steps I can take. So for now I will enjoy this new gift of time.

9. Additional thoughts in your own words and those of your friends and family.

My family has always been there for me. They have been pretty supported during the 1st months, but like teenagers I was back to helping with chores etc. It was not easy for a guy whos in endurance sports to be sitting still. I’m getting better at it. Thanks Covid-19.
As for friends, the run community as generated a lot of friends.
I ‘ve been in Ottawa since 1996 and it only took me 17 years to actually lace up some runners and toe the line. But as soon as I started going to some events and then it was more social media that ignited a whole different community. It was like I had found a lot of like minded people that actually get you. The run community in Ottawa has a strong foundation and I’ve met a lot of close friends through this community. When I was diagnosed with Atrial Fibrillation it was one of these running friends (who I have yet to meet IRL) that actually said to share my story. So I did and I could not believe the actual outpouring of support that the community gave me. I actually found that through them I could use them as a platform to bring awareness to others that if you are feeling a bit odd or maybe you’re not, but looking at your stats with your heart rate seems a bit out of character then you should get yourself checked out. I learned a lot with my experience with the University of Ottawa Heart Institute from the initial diagnosis all the way to my cardiac rehab. I am not the same runner that I used to be, but through the Ottawa Run community I knew of another runner that mentioned that she had gone through a similar experience and put me in touch with another group that she came across. The group is called Cardiac Athletes; This group had several other like minded runners but these people had a variety of heart ailments. They ranged from the AFib to actual open heart surgery, but their passion was for their endurance sports. Many of them kept moving throughout their recovery and regardless of which community i belonged to they were always behind me giving support. Even on my comeback the community was there for me cheering me on even when I rolled my ankle there were many that reached out and provided guidance and support and one runner reached out with a very similar experience since we were literally a special club of cankle’s. I called mine Michelle and she called her Cankley. I’ll never forget the support from someone who barely knew me and just reached out. I will never ever be able to forgive her kindness.
There are so many runners that form a bond; a crew; a support system that is radically different than your immediate family They are an extension of you as they just get the mind of a runner. All the training runs, the group runs and the banter on social media is something truly different. You are more than willing to tell a complete running friend your problems even before telling your spouse or partner. That’s how different the run community is. It doesn’t have to be in Ottawa, but whatever city you live in you will find your people! I just know in Ottawa they are my people and they get me!