'Curiosity and a Fitbit saved my life' – man's flu-like symptoms were actually heart disease

play article
Subscribers can listen to this article
Ryan Gabb (left) was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy after his resting heart rate registered high on a Fitbit. (PHOTO: Twitter/NHS Organ Donation)
Ryan Gabb (left) was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy after his resting heart rate registered high on a Fitbit. (PHOTO: Twitter/NHS Organ Donation)

Curiosity saved Ryan Gabb’s life after he wondered if the flu-like symptoms he was having were something more serious.

The 30-year-old from Wales in the UK borrowed a friend's Fitbit to check his heart rate, and subsequently discovered he had a deadly heart disease – serious enough for him to be placed on the heart transplant waiting list.

His symptoms, he recalls, were “getting worse and I was starting to become breathless too".

The Fitbit showed that his resting heart rate was more than 100 beats per minute – most adults have a resting heart rate of between 60 and 100 beats per minute, and fitter people can have lower heart rates.

“I had been feeling unwell for a few weeks, just general tiredness and flu-type symptoms that I couldn’t shake off,” Ryan recalls of that time in 2017 before his GP sent him straight to hospital.

He was fitted with a heart pump and remains on the
He was fitted with a heart pump and remains on the waiting list for a heart transplant. (PHOTO: Twitter/NHS Organ Donation)

At the hospital he was told he had dilated cardiomyopathy, a disease affecting the heart muscles, making it difficult for the heart to pump blood to the body.

The disease can lead to heart failure.

In fact, it was the cause of English footballer Fabrice Muamba’s heart attack during a soccer match in 2012.

“I couldn't believe what I was hearing. I was in complete shock. I knew I hadn't been well but was not expecting anything so serious.”

In 2018 doctors fitted Ryan with a left ventricular assist device (LVAD) – a heart pump – to help his heart circulate blood in his body.

He was placed on the emergency transplant list the previous year, but he had to rejoin the list after his operation to fit the pump.

English footballer Fabrice Muamba was diagnosed with cardi
English footballer Fabrice Muamba was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy after suffering a heart attack during a match. (PHOTO: Gallo Images/Getty Images)

Ryan also had to quit his job because of the diagnosis.

“I'm doing pretty well at the moment with the LVAD but waiting for a transplant can be hard. There's a constant need to have my phone with me and I need a regular electricity supply so the LVAD batteries can be charged.”

He says he always worries about power cuts and hopes “the year ahead can bring some normality". 

"I also hope more people will discuss organ donation with their families and register their decision. You never know when or who might need that help.

"I used to be a regular blood donor and I also joined the National Health Service Organ Donor Register when I was 18. I thought both were important, but I never expected that my life would change so much."

READ MORE | The shock, the drama, the tears: how football star Christian Eriksen nearly died on the pitch

Types of cardiomyopathy

Dilated: This occurs when one of the heart's pumping chambers - known as ventricles - is enlarged. This form of cardiomyopathy can be genetically passed down or may just develop. It's more prevalent in males and is the most common form of the disease in children.

Hypertrophic: In this case, the heart muscle is thickened. Often occuring in childhood or early adulthood, this form is usually inherited and can lead to sudden death in adolescents and young athletes. It may develop without symptoms, and it'd advised that family members be tested should there be a history of it. It can also develop as a result of aging and high blood pressure.

Arrhythmogenic: This form is more common in men and causes the heartbeat and rhythm become irreguar. It can be passed down genetically.

Restrictive: This occurs when the heart muscle is stiff and/or scarred. It's the least common form of cardiomyopathy and can be accompanied by amyloidosis - conditions caused by an abnormal build-up of a protein called amyloid, making it hard for organs and tissues to function normally.


We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For 14 free days, you can have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today. Thereafter you will be billed R75 per month. You can cancel anytime and if you cancel within 14 days you won't be billed. 
Subscribe to News24
Show Comments ()