Jennie Stenerhag

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Operation, recovery and first race back!


When I saw the specialist after what happened at the Cape Epic I was told I needed to have an EP (Electrophysiology) study done on my heart to find out exactly what was wrong and a cardiac ablation to fix the fault, if they found it. It was clear that I had SVT (SupraVentricularTachycardia) but there are a few different kinds of this. So one week later, on the day 2 weeks after I had pulled out of the Epic, I went in to the Panorama heart unit to see Dr Gopal, who I had learnt is the best in the country on these kind of ablations. I can not tell enough how well looked after I was at the hospital and how fantastic all the staff were! The anaesthetist was interested in mountainbiking so we had something to chat about while they prepared me for the procedure which I was going to be awake during. Dr Gopal had to trigger my heart to go in to tachycardia in theatre to find out exactly where in my heart something was going wrong and to do this I had to be awake and only under local anaesthetics, the reason is that if I am sleeping the nerves in the heart would also sleep and they would not get it in to tachycardia. In a way it was interesting to see and hear what they did even though I dozed off now and then and thought the procedure went a lot faster than the 1,5-2 hours that it took. The doctor went in with a stent through the groin on both sides and did everything via that, it is incredible what they can do! My biggest worry was that they were not going to find the fault and the procedure would have been a waste, but Dr Gopal could quickly get my heart in to tachycardia while I was laying on the table and he said it was clear to see what kind it was.

I had the most commen type of SVT called AV nodal re-entrant tachycardia (AVNRT) which is more common for woman then men. This is when one has an extra pathway in the AV node and the cause for this is unknown and one has it since birth. There are some good explanations on this website.

When Dr Gopal had found the fault he cauterized the extra pathway and then tried to trigger the heart to go in to tachycardia again but without success, which was a very good thing since it means that the fault was gone and I should never experience this again! I stayed in ICU overnight and my heart rate and blood pressure was tested every 15th minute. The doctor was very happy with how everything went and I could go home the next day and take it easy for a few days but I could go back to normal life already the second day home and I could start riding my bike a week after the procedure.

It is always difficult to judge how much to train and how hard to push after something like this and since it is the heart we are talking about you really don’t want to push too hard and to have any set backs! I was very nervous in the beginning since I felt a bit strange while riding, my heart rate was very high and my power very low, if it was anxiety and worry or if something was wrong I could not tell. I did slow rides for 2 weeks to give myself a good base again.

Finally the time came for me to check if everything was going well and without having done any intensity training at all I went to the Cell C Arabella Challenge. It was a fun 2 day event organised by Stillwater sport and the stages were short so it was the perfect way to start racing again. I had promised myself to see how I felt and if I did not feel good I was going to hold back and just ride. I was extremely nervous before the start since I had no clue how my body was going to react on pushing again! Off we went and straight in to the longest climb of the day, a 10 km hill and my legs and lungs were hurting, but in a good way! It was a great feeling to push again! I had tough competition from Carmen who sat on my wheel for the first 20 km and made me work very hard! I managed to drop her on a rocky descent but when I turned around on the next climb I could see her coming close again. I worked hard on the climb and opened up a gap again. I tried to push as hard as possible for the rest of the race but also enjoyed the newly cut single tracks we were riding. I was super happy when I crossed the finish line, I had managed to push hard for a full 52km race and taking the stage win was only a bonus, the biggest victory was that my body and heart felt fine!

The afternoon was spent in the sun by the pool at the beautiful Arabella hotel, it was such a treat to get to stay there and having a race venue at such a nice hotel!

The second stage was shortened to 40 km but it was not any easier! We started at the Wildekrans wine farm and knowing that it was going to be single tracks, from the gun the start was super fast. I got a good start and got away from the other girls and I pushed as hard as I could, it felt great for the first hour after which I felt the hard start in my legs. The route was tough with a lot of sand and a lot of ups and downs and it felt like the longest 40km I have done, still lots of fun though! I was happy to take the win at the Arabella challenge! It was the perfect weekend for me to test the form and to see that everything was as it should with the heart!

Thank you Stillwater Sport for inviting Craig and I to the race, it was a great event and lots of fun! 


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