Rare autoimmune disease attacks the heart

Rare autoimmune disease attacks the heart

Dave Velanoff of Waterloo was feeling out-of-breath more often than usual. At first he dismissed it as a symptom of stress, but he grew increasingly concerned.

“My work required me to fly frequently,” Dave explains. “I was having a difficult time getting on and off planes. Just using the ramps was a tiring experience. Luckily I was due for a physical exam.”

After undergoing stress testing during his exam, Dave was sent to a hospital near his office in Toronto for an echocardiogram. He was eventually diagnosed with third-stage heart block, or an abnormally slow heart rate.

“I was referred to Hamilton General Hospital (HGH) and put under the care of Dr. Alison Montgomery,” recalls Dave. “After an in-depth stress test, I had a pacemaker put in and I soon felt better.”

“Without the care I received at HGH, I wouldn’t be on the planet today.”

Six months later, Dave returned to HGH to have his pacemaker readings reviewed.

“Dr. Montgomery was concerned. My readings showed a fast heart rate caused by improper electrical activity. After scans and testing of my lymph nodes, I was diagnosed with a rare disease called cardiac sarcoidosis.”

With cardiac sarcoidosis, the immune system forms abnormal clusters of white blood cells that attack the heart. This causes irregular heartbeats, impaired heart function and can result in heart failure.

“Cardiac sarcoidosis is difficult to diagnose,” says Dave, “so I’m grateful to Dr. Montgomery and the amazing team at HGH for figuring out my condition. Many people with cardiac sarcoidosis are not diagnosed until their autopsy. Without their care, I’d probably be dead.”

Since his diagnosis, Dave has been treated with different combinations of medications to reduce inflammation in his heart and to suppress an overactive immune system. His pacemaker was replaced by an implantable cardioverter defibrillator and it was eventually upgraded to a more sophisticated unit to better normalize his heart rhythm.

“I’m stable nowadays and functioning relatively normally for a guy who’s 61. I can easily walk a championship golf course a number of times during the week. A recent scan showed absolutely no sign of cardiac sarcoidosis in my system, so they’re weaning me off of some of my medication. Cardiac sarcoidosis can return, so Dr. Montgomery keeps very close watch on my symptoms.”

Dave is excited about being a 2017 Strides for The General Patient Ambassador and he encourages others to support the important work being done at HGH.

“I think people should contribute as donors and fundraise for Strides for The General because good medical care is vital to the health of you, your loved ones and society. The government does not fund the purchase of medical equipment that’s vital to the success of great hospitals like HGH. Without the care I received at HGH, I wouldn’t be on the planet today.”

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Register and fundraise for Strides for The General at www.hamiltonhealth.ca/strides.