Patient Story
School Project May Have Saved Student’s Life, Thanks to Saint Luke’s

“I thought it was normal to have your heart racing.” - Samsson Destahun

Like most high school seniors, Samsson Destahun was more interested in sports than health care. Health was his distant second choice for a marketing project at the Northland Center for Advanced Professional Studies (CAPS), where he was a student. CAPS helps high school students develop professional skills by immersing them in the world of business.

When Samsson’s teacher assigned him to help market Saint Luke’s Athletic Heart Clinic, the 17-year-old was disappointed. The clinic offers heart screenings for athletes age 13 and older. The screenings can uncover abnormalities that can lead to sudden cardiac arrest during physical activity, said Anthony Magalski, MD, the clinic’s medical director.

As Samsson had played on his school’s tennis team and was an avid runner, he signed up for a screening himself, hoping it would pique his interest. In October 2014, Samsson underwent:

  • An electrocardiogram (ECG), which looks at electrical activity in the heart
  • An echocardiogram, which uses sound waves to create images that evaluate the heart valves and the size, thickness, and movement of the heart walls
  • A comprehensive heart history with blood pressure screening

“I wasn’t worried,” said Samsson. “I had some shortness of breath but thought it was asthma.”

Pathway problem

Dr. Magalski noticed an abnormal heart rhythm on Samsson’s ECG. It signaled that Samsson had an extra electrical pathway between the upper and lower chambers of his heart that can cause a rapid heartbeat or tachychardia. The rare condition called Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome affects only four out of every 100,000 people. It can cause dizziness, fainting, and even sudden death.

Samsson was stunned when Dr. Magalski discussed the results of his screening and recommended that he see cardiologist Brian M. Ramza, MD, who specializes in heart rhythm disorders.

“I thought it was normal to have your heart racing,” Samsson said.

He went home and Googled the syndrome, talked it over with his mother, and then made an appointment with Dr. Ramza.

Samsson and his mother were greatly relieved when Dr. Ramza told them there was a procedure that could eliminate or block this abnormal pathway.

A heart mended

Samsson checked into Saint Luke’s Mid America Heart Institute the morning before Thanksgiving. Dr. Ramza threaded catheters through Samsson’s groin and up to his heart to locate and destroy the extra electrical pathway with the use of radiofrequency ablation.

Samsson was not supposed to eat for 12 hours before the procedure. “That was the worst part of it all,” said the teenager. “Right after, my mom was waiting for me with a big hamburger.”

The next day, Samsson made up for his brief period of fasting and expressed gratitude for the assignment that gave him a chance for a healthier heart. He also learned some lessons in marketing and communications.

In the months that followed, Samsson was asked to give a speech about the value of the lifesaving screening in front of 500 people.

“All teenage boys think they are invincible, until they aren’t,” he told them.

The experience has matured and changed him. Now in college, he’s still interested in business, but he’s also more open to other subjects.

 “Health care saved my life,” he said, “so I’m a lot more interested in it now.”