Drinking ice-cold water triggered atrial fibrillation for Houston man

Lileana Pearson Image
Monday, February 26, 2024
Houston man discovers heart issue after drinking cold water
"As I'm drinking the water, probably the most noticeable thud in my chest, I'd never experienced it before," a Houston man said. ABC13 spoke to a medical expert on why those with heart conditions should pay attention to their symptoms.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- A Houston man is spreading awareness after almost dying from a drink of cold water.

His condition and the unusual trigger sent him to the hospital more than 20 times over a 15-year period before he connected the dots and realized he needed heart surgery. It started out of the blue with a fainting spell when he was just 18 years old.

"As I'm drinking the water, probably the most noticeable thud in my chest," Franklin Aribeana said. "I'd never experienced it before."

The first event turned into years of emergency room visits, medication, and guesswork for Aribeana.

"It's a day I'll never forget," Aribeana said.

He connected the dots one day when he was working out at the gym. He took a swig of ice-cold water and felt the telltale sign when his heart began to pound.

"I'd take a gulp of cold water. As I'm settling back down, I feel the double thud," Aribeana said.

Genetic testing revealed Aribeana, his sister, and his father had a gene mutation that can trigger atrial fibrillation, or Afib. Afib is a condition where the heart beats out of rhythm. For Aribeana, doctors thought his Afib could be triggered when cold water touched the vagus nerve in the back of his throat.

The vagus nerve runs from the brain to your chest and is meant to regulate your heartbeat.

"Pay attention to your symptoms," Aribeana's doctor, Khashayar Hematpour, said.

Hematpour said Aribeana's trigger is rare, as are his exaggerated symptoms, which played into his diagnosis early in life.

"It may cause subtle symptoms, some people may feel they are a little tired more than usual, may feel they are short of breath, have some chest pain," Hematpour said.

The more common, subtle symptoms can lead to diagnoses later in life. Aribeana was able to get an ablation, a procedure that cauterized the connection between the vagus nerve and heart. He made a full recovery and has had no hospital stays since, though he remains on medication. Aribeana's message to others is to always listen to your body.

"If you feel something, don't be afraid to tell your parents. Don't be afraid to tell your physician next time you go in for an appointment, or if it feels emergency-related enough, don't be afraid to go to the emergency room," Aribeana said.

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