How would you feel if you could no longer do your favorite sports and activities? Unfortunately, there was a time when Nicholas "Nic" Solomon knew exactly how that felt.
Short circuit in the heart
The Tallahassee teen, a competitive martial artist ranked among the top in Florida for taekwondo, was sidelined from his passion after being diagnosed with supraventricular tachycardia (SVT) and Wolff-Parkinson-White (WPW) syndrome in February 2020 at Wolfson Children's Hospital of Jacksonville. These conditions can cause an abnormally fast heartbeat as a result of an electrical short circuit in the heart.
A normal heart rate is between 70 and 110 beats a minute. During SVT, the heart can beat 250 to 300 times per minute, causing lightheadedness and chest pain or discomfort. With WPW syndrome, a congenital heart problem and rare form of SVT, patients can experience a life-threatening arrhythmia that can lead to sudden cardiac arrest.
"The diagnosis was a big blow," said Dolly Solomon, Nic's mom. "He couldn't exercise or compete, which is so difficult for an athlete."
The diagnosis was equally hard for her. "Nic appeared to be so healthy," Solomon said. "I didn't want to believe anything was wrong with my son's heart. I wanted everything to be OK."
Heart palpitations during exercise
It all started two years prior when Nic began experiencing episodes of heart palpitations while exercising. In most cases, a rapid heartbeat isn't life-threatening, but it shouldn't be ignored as serious heart problems can occur. Nic's pediatrician recommended consulting with pediatric cardiologist Justin "Mac" Vining, MD, at Wolfson Children's Specialty Center at Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare. Part of a longstanding relationship between Wolfson Children's Hospital and Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare (TMH), the Specialty Center is designed to give Tallahassee-area families, like Nic's, access to pediatric specialists close to home, as well as to offer a streamlined continuum of care should they need advanced pediatric intervention at Wolfson Children's in Jacksonville.
"Since Nic is highly competitive in taekwondo, identifying the true nature of the chest pain was important," said Dr. Vining. "In Nic's case, there were several different possibilities. Taekwondo is a contact sport, so musculoskeletal injury is a possibility. He gets up before 7 am every morning to train, and musculoskeletal injuries are common in young athletes who lift weights. He has a history of asthma and uses albuterol, which can trigger chest pain in kids and teens. I chose to take a complete approach to identify the true cause of his symptoms."
Dual cardiac testing
Dr. Vining ordered cardiac testing, including an echocardiogram and an electrocardiogram, commonly referred to as an EKG or ECG. While often used in conjunction and complementary to each other, an echocardiogram provides an ultrasound of the heart and an EKG records the heart's electrical activity. After reviewing the results, Dr. Vining recommended an initial period of observation.
Nic's rapid heart palpitations continued and when the intensity increased, he returned to Dr. Vining. After monitoring the activity of Nic's heart, Dr. Vining referred Nic and his family to Wolfson Children's Hospital of Jacksonville.
Healing Nic's heart with ablation
In order to avoid the risk of cardiac arrest, Nic had to refrain from exercise and sports activities until after his procedure in March. The exertion from sports and high-intensity activities can send a high level of adrenaline circulating throughout the body, which is the danger for young athletes with WPW like Nic.
Nic's parents brought him to Wolfson Children's from Tallahassee on the morning of his surgery. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, visitation restrictions allowed only one parent to accompany Nic in the hospital. His mother went in with him.
The procedure in the Wolfson Children's Cardiac Catheterization Laboratory took approximately 3.5 hours. During Nic's ablation, catheters were advanced through a vein in the groin into the heart. Electrical signals from the catheters helped locate the extra electrical connection, which was then eliminated.
In most cases, an ablation is an outpatient procedure, but due to the location of the abnormal connection in Nic's heart, he spent the night in the Cardiovascular ICU (CVICU) at Wolfson Children's Hospital before returning home to Tallahassee.
"Everyone at Wolfson Children's was good to us," said Solomon. "We were blessed to be in the care of those doctors and nurses. I have so much gratitude."
Fighting back after heart surgery
Two months after his procedure, Nic went for his follow-up appointment with Dr. Vining in Tallahassee and was deemed in perfect health. He resumed his athletic training in September.
"Nic's condition was treated and he can lead a normal, healthy life," his mom said.
Doctors recommended a heart health screening examination for Nic's older brother, Julian, even though he hadn't had any symptoms. Julian is also an active teen who is ranked among the top martial artists in Florida. Fortunately, Dr. Vining was able to rule out any heart abnormalities in Julian, a relief to the Solomon family.
Trust your child's heart to Wolfson Children's
The Wolfson Children's C. Herman and Mary Virginia Terry Heart Institute provides expert treatment from pediatric specialists for a wide range of heart conditions, from rhythm disorders to congenital heart defects. To learn more, call 904.202.8550.
This story was originally published in December 2020.