AKRON, Ohio - A few months into her pregnancy with twin girls, Meredith Stone experienced a strange and scary sensation. Her heart began beating extremely fast, sometimes as fast as 160 beats per minute while resting.
"I would be lying in bed asleep at night and my heart would wake me up because it was beating so fast," the Strongsville woman said.
Meredith and her husband, Matt, initially chalked it up to a higher cardiac load, but when the racing heart persisted, the couple was referred to cardiology at the Cleveland Clinic.
"I went to get an echocardiogram and my heart was beating so fast that the technician couldn't get any reading," Meredith said.
Doctors tried beta blockers, but Meredith's heart wouldn't calm down. It became clear that she needed a cardiac ablation, but the traditional method for performing the procedure involved the use of X-rays, which could be harmful to the babies.
"That's a lot of radiation. That's a lot of X-rays. That's not good for developing fetuses," Meredith said.
Cleveland Clinic doctors referred the Stone family to Dr. John Clark, a pediatric cardiologist at Akron Children's Hospital, who pioneered a way to perform an ablation without radiation.
"What we learned pretty early on is that you don't need to use X-ray at all with almost all routine ablation procedures," Dr. Clark said.
Dr. Clark determined that if Meredith's heart condition, known as supraventricular tachycardia (SVT), wasn't fixed, the mother's heart couldn't pump enough blood to the placenta to feed the babies, and Meredith could go into heart failure.
"The babies wouldn't make it to term if we didn't control the rhythm by some means," Dr. Clark said.
Meredith and Matt, who learned on Super Bowl Sunday 2012 they were going to become first-time parents, now had to deal with the stress of an uncertain pregnancy.
"No one explicitly said your babies are going to die, but it didn't sound good," Meredith said,.
"Just knowing that three lives depended on that, it was just, that was rough," Matt explained with tears welling in his eyes.
Dr. Clark suggested his 3D mapping system, which allows him to monitor a catheter continually in real time without the use of radiation.
Dr. Clark had done more than 1,000 cardiac ablations in his career, but Meredith would be his first pregnant patient to undergo the 4-hour surgery without fluoroscopy.
In fact, Meredith was only the fifth pregnant woman in the world to undergo the procedure using 3D mapping.
She was 20 weeks along with the twins at the time.
Dr. Clark and his medical team pinpointed the rogue cells that were causing Meredith's heart to race and destroyed them.
"Once we could pinpoint the spot, we freeze the tip. By freezing, that destroys the cells," Dr. Clark said.
Meredith felt relief immediately.
"For the rest of the procedure and ever since then, I haven't had a single episode," she said.
In September of 2012, at 35 weeks, the couple welcomed the births of healthy twin girls, Luciella and Alina.
"They're doing great. They're growing well. They're sleeping through the night amazingly enough. I just can't imagine life without them and I'm just so grateful," Meredith said.
"I wasn't prepared for how much work probably even one, let alone two babies would be, but I also wasn't prepared for how much joy and how much fulfillment having children brings," Matt said.
Dr. Clark believes his 3D mapping system will become the standard of care within 10 years.
During a recent visit with the Stone family at Akron Children's Hospital, Dr. Clark held the twins and smiled.
"To be able to see two healthy, young developing babies and a healthy mother with a normal heart rhythm, it's why you go to medical school," he said.