Derry’s Pamela gets to the heart of the matter

The current Miss Derry, Pamela O'Hagan, who is establishing a support group for those suffering from Supraventricular Tachycardia (SVT).
The current Miss Derry, Pamela O'Hagan, who is establishing a support group for those suffering from Supraventricular Tachycardia (SVT).
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The current Miss Derry and former Miss Donegal is using her own experiences of living with a heart condition to help others.

Pamela O’Hagan who represented both counties at the Miss Ireland contest in 2011 and 2010 has established a support group for those diagnosed or awaiting dignosis of Supraventricular Tachycardia (SVT).

SVT causes a rapid rise in the heart rate, sufferers can experience a heart rate of 280 beats per minute, the average rate for a resting adult is 70-80 bpm.

It is a condition which as a teenager, left the beauty queen living in an; “Absolute sense of isolation.

“I was off school up to three days a week so I had to be home tutored. I then became so stressed during my Leaving Cert exams that the extra pressure on my heart forced me to leave school altogether.”

Attacks or fits can last between ten minutes and two hours. The former Scoil Mhuire pupil said: “You are just exhausted, mentally and physically by the end of it. In between attacks I generally just felt ‘under the weather.’”

To compound the problem Ms. O’Hagan explained how she had the condition from from age 5 however it was not diagnosed until she was 18. I can remember the first time I had an attack, we were on holiday in Greece. I don’t remember my First Communion but I remember that incident vividly.

“My mother took me to play on the slide to distract me thinking it was the heat. She then gave me a drink of coke but the caffeine made it worse. By the time we got to the doctor my heart had returned to its normal rate.”

That situation was to reoccur often, as; “SVT can only be identified when the heart is palpitating, so even the heart specialists couldn’t find anything wrong with me as I wasn’t having an attack during appointments.”

Aged 13, Pamela was diagnosed with anxiety and sent to a psychiatrist. “I was totally alone, talking to different psychologists about ‘problems.’ I was 13 years old and basically screaming there is something wrong with me. Even my mother had begun to believe there was nothing wrong as the specialists were telling her so. I knew different though and through my own research I had begun to ask the doctors about SVT.”

One specialist instructed Pamela to; “Stop worrying, ‘go home and do some yoga,’ he also told me I was paranoid.

“The way I was treated just wasn’t right.”

Asked about growing up with SVT, Pamela said: “It is a pain which comes and goes.”

Diagnosis eventually came after Pamela collapsed and blacked out while at work. A heart monitor showed her heart rate had reached 280bpm. “I remember the ambulance man mentioning SVT to me and I thought, ‘This is ridiculous, I diagnosed myself.’

“At that stage in the ambulance they were discussing stopping and restarting my heart in order to get it to return to a regular rate. It was terrifying.

“I was given an intravenous injection and the diagnosis followed that but I had known something was wrong for years. There was a real sense of vindication for me.”

Following her diagnosis Pamela travelled to Dublin for a specialist heart procedure. She underwent surgery at St. James’ Hospital on Valentine’s Day 2005.

The treatment for SVT involves doctors sending a small camera and laser into the heart chamber before injecting the patient with adrenaline to induce an episode. They then cauterise the extra electrical pathway in the heart.

“I was awake during the entire procedure,” recalls the beauty queen.

However Pamela’s operation wasn’t an entire success, she still suffers from attacks but they are shorter lasting 15 instead of 90 minutes. “A second operation is too high risk. It is after all a laser in the heart chamber, so I’m still anxious and nervous in case I have an attack when out on my own. The truth is while I live in fear of it happening I try not to let it affect my life.”

Pamela is at a higher risk of stroke and heart attack due to SVT; “Of course that stays with you. But you avoid caffeine, chocolate and anything which might bring an attack on.”

Pamela has even returned to her studies at Limavady Tech. The massage and beauty therapy pupil is auditioning in Dublin next week for ‘Diva Next Door,’ a reality TV show with Rossana Davidson, she is modelling as part of Inishowen Fashion Week and works full time in the peninsula as a home help. It is however her work to establish a support group for SVT patients that is most rewarding. “I just want to help anyone else out there that is in the same boat as me. As a teenager I would have loved to have known there were other people out there experiencing the same thing as myself. I had to go through it alone wondering what was wrong with me, a support group might help someone else avoid that.

Anyone interesed should contact the Pamela at http://www.facebook.com/SVTSupportIreland.