Louanne Shelton, 83, is a competitive ballroom dancer and former piano teacher. And while she's always been able to keep the beat, her heart has not. In 2002, Louanne had her first episode of atrial fibrillation or AFib, a condition that causes an irregular heartbeat, fatigue and other problems. Eventually, Virginia Mason physicians were able to step in, treat Louanne's AFib and get her right back out on the dance floor.
Music has always been a big part of Louanne's life, so it's not too surprising that after a lifetime of teaching and playing the piano, she took up ballroom dancing in her early 70s. Louanne had shared a love of music with her husband, Warren, a flute player and school orchestra leader. When Warren died and Louanne's osteoarthritis affected her piano playing, friends suggested she go dancing with them. Louanne stepped onto the dance floor and found she didn't want to step off. It wasn't too long before she became a competitive dancer participating in contests as far away as Hawaii and British Columbia.
“Thanks to my care at Virginia Mason, I was back on the dance floor three months after my second knee replacement.”
Even when she broke her hip a few years ago and had two knee replacements within the same year, Louanne's interest in dancing never flagged. "Thanks to my care at Virginia Mason, I was back on the dance floor three months after my second knee replacement," says Louanne.
But the atrial fibrillation that started in 2002 was a bigger challenge. "At first, it didn't happen very often," says Louanne, "but after a while, it became a nuisance." One day, she passed out while driving on the freeway. Luckily, the traffic was crawling and she came to before she hit another car.
Louanne spent that night at Virginia Mason and two days later a pacemaker was implanted in her chest to ensure that a slow or irregular heartbeat wouldn't cause her to pass out again. Louanne's physicians eventually recommended she undergo a cardiac ablation in the hope that it would bring her heart back into rhythm once and for all. During an ablation, a catheter is inserted into the groin and sent to the heart where it is used to cauterize the electrical signal or signals that are malfunctioning and causing an irregular heartbeat.
"It took me a couple of years to make the decision to have it done," says Louanne. "I don't know why it took me so long because it was the right thing to do. Everything went smoothly. I was in and out of the hospital in one day." Louanne says she could tell right away that the ablation was a success. Since the procedure was done, her heart has stayed in rhythm, just as she does on the dance floor.
"Even though I'm doing really well now, there are still times when I walk into the studio and think, 'I'm not going to be able to do this today.' Then I hear the music and I'm ready to go!"