Joy Findlow considers herself lucky.
Not just because a routine blood donation means she is here today to speak about her heart condition journey, but also because of the support she has received from the people around her, her GP and the success of her treatment at Goulburn Valley Health.
“I went to donate my blood at the Red Cross and they determined my pulse was too high and then decided I couldn’t give blood, so they gave me a letter to take to my doctor and they sent me off to have a Holter monitor overnight,” she said.
After further testing, Mrs Findlow was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, which came as a shock, as she had not experienced any symptoms and considered herself fit and healthy.
Luckily for Joy, GV Health is home to a rapid access atrial fibrillation clinic.
This relieved the stress of travelling to Melbourne and meant she could be seen by the clinic’s specialist staff: consultant cardiologist Dr Jennifer Coller, consultant physician Dr Ali Uthuman and AF nurse Catherine Maulion in her home town.
The clinic aims to provide timely and focused specialist care to patients diagnosed with AF — in collaboration with Safer Care Victoria.
Access to the rapid AF clinic in the local area has expanded the community’s access to a rapid heart assessment, which can dramatically impact health outcomes.
“[The clinic] allows us to make early decisions about the best way to approach things such as trying to control a heart rhythm or slow it down to help the symptoms and then also working out whether the patient’s at substantial risk of stroke — a major concern with AF, and we have some really effective medications that can dramatically reduce the risk of a stroke,” Dr Coller said.
She said that after a few weeks of running the clinic, they realised they were often sending patients to Melbourne for DC cardioversion (a shock to the heart under anaesthetic to restore the normal rhythm), which meant added stress for the patient and their family.
“We wanted to offer the best patient experience and minimise travel and time off work, so we established a monthly DC reversion list in theatre at GV Health,” Dr Coller said.
“This has been on offer for six months and we’ve had great patient feedback.”
Mrs Findlow underwent a successful DC cardioversion and was later referred to visiting electrophysiologist Dr Hari Sugumar, who organised an ablation procedure in Melbourne to stop the AF occurring.
Her quality of life has changed dramatically after receiving care at the clinic and she has now been able to get back to the activities she loves and enjoys.
She said the care she received from the three staff members was “incredible” and wishes to thank all the staff that tended to her at GV Health but particularly, the AF clinic team.
“They made me feel as if they were always there if I needed them,” Mrs Findlow said.
“I felt like I could just walk in if I wanted to — they are fantastic.”
If you are experiencing possible symptoms of AF, seek medical advice — your local GP can consider a referral to the rapid access AF clinic if appropriate.