Discover how this veteran used his Charge 5 as a catalyst for complex health

My Fitbit story began on Christmas Eve last year. It was an enjoyable and busy time. My wife and I have four grown children and ten grandchildren, so we had a lot of people. That morning, when I checked my health metrics on my Charge 5, I noticed that my heart rate variability (HRV) hadn’t registered overnight. I haven’t looked at the ECG feature for a while, so out of curiosity, I decided to give it a try. My heart chambers were not contracting in their normal coordinated fashion. I also noticed that my heart rate increased slightly, but I did not feel any abnormal palpitations.

I was a little concerned, but I didn’t think I was in immediate danger. I decided not to tell my wife or family until after Christmas. I didn’t want to worry anyone and thought it might resolve itself. I borrowed my wife’s Charge 5 to check the results, and sure enough, it showed the same AFib reading.

Five days later, after we cleaned up from the celebration, I made an appointment to see my primary care doctor. I showed him that my Charge 5 was still indicating that I had AFib. After consulting a cardiologist, I began a series of tests to find out what could be causing my heart rhythm changes.

After all the tests came back, I learned two surprising things. Apparently, I had a heart defect from birth. It’s called a bicuspid aortic valve—basically, my heart is supposed to have three flaps in one valve that opens and only two close. It’s a relatively common flaw, and it hasn’t stopped me from leading an active life. Unfortunately, this can make you prone to other complications, one of which doctors have found. Examining my heart, they discovered a thoracic aortic aneurysm. One of the large blood vessels that carry blood from my heart to the rest of my body was larger and weaker than normal.

Aortic aneurysms are scary because they often have no symptoms and the fragile blood vessel can rupture without warning. That could be fatal. Once you know about the condition, your doctor can monitor the size of the aneurysm over time to see if it’s getting bigger. I am not a candidate for surgery unless my doctors see a significant change. I now have a full panel of doctors who will monitor my condition in the future.

When I first got the diagnosis, I was worried that it would drastically change my lifestyle. I am 62 years old and I have always been very active. I played sports in high school, followed by 7 years in the military and 25 years in law enforcement. I have been retired for 9 years and my wife and I have an exercise regime that includes weight training, biking and a rowing machine. We have dogs and like to walk at least two miles a day. Our garage is pretty much a full-functioning gym. Giving up these activities would have been frustrating.

Fortunately, the doctors told me that staying active is as important as ever if I follow some changes. They told me to reduce my weight by 20 percent, monitor my heart rate while exercising and not hold my breath.

I am now on a low dose of heart meds, and the AFib has resolved for now but I check it regularly using my charge 5. I use my Fitbit to monitor my heart rate while exercising so this doesn’t happen. Too much happens, and I check my daily fitness score every day along with keeping track of my active zone minutes for the week. If I hadn’t used the ECG feature on my Fitbit, I probably wouldn’t have known about my two heart conditions. This knowledge will play a major role in my chances of having a long and healthy life.

As Ethan Waters was told


*The Fitbit ECG app is only available in select countries. Not intended for use by persons under 22 years of age. Visit fitbit.com/ecg for additional details.”

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