Medical Breakthroughs: Swimmer with heart condition beats the odds

Medical Breakthroughs

LAFAYETTE, La. (KLFY)- A routine physical led one Acadiana swimmer to discovering he had a heart condition.

But he’s not letting that stop him from achieving his dreams of being a college athlete.

Richard LaFleur, 20, can’t imagine his life without swimming.
But it was almost at jeopardy after doctors found an irregular heartbeat during a routine physical in 8th grade/

“We were shocked that that was even an issue, because I’ve never felt it,” he said. “It never affected my swimming in any way.”

He was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation and started medication.
The problem seemed to go away – but came back last summer, just two months before he was supposed to join the swim team at Lindenwood University in Missouri.

“It was different this time because I felt it whenever I was swimming,” LaFleur said. “Swimming was just a lot more difficult than it typically is during warm-ups. i would be so out of breath and i would just say to myself this can’t be right.”

Cardiac electrophysiologist Dr. Patrick Welch performed an ablation on Richard – procedure that targets the part of the heart where the irregular heartbeat is coming from.

He said most people develop atrial fibrillation in their 40’s or older.
Welch said Richard is the youngest patient he has ever treated for atrial fibrillation.

“You can use a catheter that makes a small burn and cauterize the area. The burn is insignificant in terms of affecting the heart function but it literally burns away the problem,” Dr. Welch said.

The next day, Richard was back in the pool and swam a successful first season at Lindenwood and only missing qualifying for nationals by two seconds.

He says he isn’t letting his heart condition stand in his way.

“Stuff happens, but there’s always a way for you to get through it. It’s always great to have your friends and family always by your side supporting you through this whole thing,” LeFleur said. “And in the end, it’s always going to be best for you.”

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