When Arlene Leitch went to her GP complaining about heart palpitations she was relieved to be told they were likely to be a result of anxiety or drinking too much caffeine.
However, the 32-year-old mother-of-one, from Port Glasgow, then suffered a cardiac arrest one night as she slept.
Doctors later said the quick reaction of her husband Barry probably helped “save her life”.
Arlene has now been told she has a rare condition known as ARVC (Arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy) and wants to raise awareness about underlying heart issues that can often go undiagnosed.
She told BBC Radio Scotland’s John Beattie programme: “I was in my 20s when I started getting the palpitations more often.
“They were kind of panicking me a wee bit because they were quite intense.
“It felt like my heart was sucking in and then beating out really hard, and then as if it was trying to catch up with itself.”
Her doctor did some tests, but when the results came back and showed nothing out of the ordinary, her symptoms were put down to anxiety, which she said she was relieved to hear.
However the heart palpitations continued and began to cause her to wake during the night.
On the night of her cardiac arrest, her husband woke to find her almost unconscious.
“He said that he heard me making noises, my eyes were glassy and I just wasn’t breathing properly,” Arlene said.
“He had to phone an ambulance and my mum because my wee boy was in the next room asleep and he was conscious of him waking up.”
Her mother, Jackie Dunn, had spent the evening with her daughter so the 05:00 phone call came as a shock. Her parents rushed to the house.
“By the time we arrived and got upstairs Barry was on top of Arlene giving her CPR. I just couldn’t believe what I was seeing,” Jackie told the programme.
“Barry had a three-way conversation going with the ambulance people and they were counting him in and telling him to keep doing what he was doing, and that he was doing everything right.”
Jackie said Arlene’s father Patrick did not think she was going to “make it” and left the room while the ambulance crew used a life-saving defibrillator.
She was taken to Inverclyde Royal Hospital in Greenock and put into an induced coma to let her body rest while the intensive care team did tests.
‘We just stayed by her bedside,” her mother said. “We didn’t know if she was going to have brain damage or be able to speak or recognise anybody.”
The following morning she woke and within minutes recognised her husband.
“We knew then that something was functioning, but when she said ‘Barry’ it was a kind of relief for us all that she was going to hopefully pull through,” said Jackie.
What is ARVC?
ARVC is a rare inherited disease of the heart muscle and often those who have it do not know.
It affects the heart’s ability to pump blood effectively as the muscle cells become thin and stretchy and are not secure, resulting in poor function.
The tests that were done on Arlene before her attack did not link to her condition. Only a MRI scan, along with other specific heart tests, can identify the condition.
Maureen Talbot, a senior cardiac nurse from the British Heart Foundation, told BBC Scotland it is difficult to diagnose without sufficient testing.
She said: “There are no typical symptoms but symptoms could include what Arlene experienced, some people have none at all.
“Others may have swelling in ankles, legs and in some cases to the abdomen, with extreme fatigue and breathlessness, which it’s worth getting checked out especially if you are fainting.”
The main symptom for many, including Arlene, is a cardiac arrest.
Ms Talbot said the condition acts in an inherited pattern so there was a need for the family of people with AVRC to be tested.
Back to normal life
After the doctors identified Arlene’s heart disease she was moved to the Golden Jubilee Hospital in Clydebank where she underwent surgery to have a Subcutaneous Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator (SCID) fitted in her side.
“I feel much more confident now knowing that I have an SICD fitted,” Arlene says.
“I feel more reassured with that being in because before I was always getting these heart palpitations and obviously in the back of your mind that is what you’re thinking – ‘Am I going to have a heart attack?'”
After five weeks recovering in hospital, Arlene is home and gradually getting back to normal life and taking each day as it comes.
“You know your own body. If you’re not feeling right and something’s not right you need to just be persistent,” she said.