Matthew, age 15, of Leominster, was born with a heart defect called transposition of the great arteries that was immediately corrected at birth. It didn’t stop him from doing anything. Due to Matthew’s condition at birth, he checked-in each year with a local cardiologist for an examination which included an echocardiogram, a non-invasive test that uses sounds waves to create pictures of the heart.
Matthew always received a clean bill of health and went back to his normal activities and busy lifestyle.
Extremely active and driven, Matthew played either street hockey or ice hockey since he was 5 years old. His younger sister, Katelyn plays, too. “We were a hockey family, going at full speed, and then everything changed,” said Theresa, Matthew’s mom.
Three days before tryouts for his high school team, Matthew felt great--until he and his family heard the results from the echocardiogram at his yearly check-up with his cardiologist. The test showed an abnormal thickening of the muscle in Matthew’s heart, completely unrelated to his condition at birth, and he needed to be seen by a specialist as soon as possible.
Theresa turned to a friend at work for advice on where to take Matthew for the best care. She knew this friend would be the right person to ask because both she and her son have serious heart conditions, and they were extremely happy with their cardiovascular team. Theresa’s friend told her without hesitation to contact the CardioVascular Center at Tufts Medical Center in Boston, and she did.
Diagnosis and care
“While Matthew did not have any signs or symptoms, his heart had doubled in size,” explained Dr. Barry Maron, a Cardiologist at the Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy Center at Tufts MC, among the world’s most premier centers for this condition. “Some people with HCM never have signs or symptoms and aren’t ever aware they have the disease, while others experience acute symptoms, complications, and even sudden cardiac arrest.”
Dr. Maron met with Matthew and his family, thoroughly examined Matthew, checked the results of extensive tests, and confirmed the diagnosis: Matthew had hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM).
HCM is a disease in which the heart muscle becomes abnormally thick, which can make it difficult for the heart to pump blood. According to the American Heart Association, HCM can affect people of any age and is a common cause of sudden cardiac arrest in young people, including young athletes. Physical activity can trigger dangerous arrhythmias (abnormal heart beats) in people with HCM.
Dr. Maron strongly recommended that Matthew have a procedure in which a cardioverter defibrillator would be implanted under his skin to constantly monitor his heart rate and provide a life-saving shock if a dangerous rhythm was detected. He carefully explained HCM, the cardioverter defibrillator and procedure to Matthew and his family, and answered their many questions. Matthew also learned that although he could eventually participate in physical activity after the procedure, he would never be able to play competitive hockey or any competitive sport again because of his risk of heart failure.
About HCM care
Soon after, Tufts MC Cardiologist Christopher Madias, MD, Director, Cardiac Arrhythmia Center, implanted the cardioverter defibrillator by a minimally invasive procedure. Matthew was able to go home the very next day.
“It’s imperative that those who experience symptoms of HCM, which include shortness of breath, heart palpitations and dizziness, be seen right away by a specialist to receive accurate diagnosis and timely appropriate care,” said Dr. Madias. “Many symptoms of HCM are similar to other heart conditions, and, as always, if someone is experiencing difficulty breathing, chest pain, or rapid or irregular heartbeat for more than a few minutes, call 911 or your local emergency number.”
HCM can be a hereditary disease, and families with a blood relative who has been diagnosed with specific types of HCM now have a choice to be screened for it. The screening involves an echocardiogram and electrocardiogram, a simple test that records the electrical signals of the heart.
Matthew and his family recognize how fortunate they are that this often undiagnosed heart disease was discovered by his cardiologist after an echocardiogram at his annual check-up. They are also grateful to the team at Tufts MC’s CardioVascular Center.
“I called the team at Tufts MC so many times with questions before and after the procedure, and, each time, everyone took the time to explain things to us so we could understand Matthew’s situation,” said Theresa. “It was amazing how much time they spent with us in person and over the telephone.”
A new role, off the ice
It has only been a few weeks since the procedure, and how Matthew is handling his situation is amazing, too. Because he is not able to play hockey competitively on his high school’s team, he became the Team Manager. He is still healing and needs to have a stress test before he can resume low-impact physical activities again, but he is already hoping to help teach students playing in the hockey intramural program at his high school.
Tuesday, January 29, 2019 is the 13th annual Heart Health Night, presented by Tufts MC, at the Boston Bruins game, and Matthew will take to the ice. It will be the first time he’s laced up since November and his brief stay at the medical center for his minimally invasive procedure just a few weeks ago, on January 3. Matthew will participate in the On-Ice Shoot-out, and his mother, father, sister, and brother will join him at the TD Garden when the Bruins play the Winnipeg Jets. All in-game fundraising during Heart Health Night will benefit the American Heart Association.