Dr. Grinton is a pediatrician at Atrium Health Levine Children’s. See how her care teammates stepped in when her daughter mysteriously collapsed during a track meet.

Child Health | 2 years ago

Teen Runner with Wolff-Parkinson-White Gets Back on Track

Dr. Grinton is a pediatrician at Atrium Health Levine Children’s. See how her care teammates stepped in when her daughter mysteriously collapsed during a track meet.

Track-runner Allie Grinton’s race is the 2 miler – or the 3600 meters, if you’re familiar with the sport.

At a county meet last year, the 16-year-old was focused on finishing all eight laps of her race. One second, she was running. The next, she was waking up, with no idea what happened. “Waking up from being unconscious was one of the scariest, most disorienting experiences,” says Allie.

The experience was equally scary for Allie’s mother, Patricia Grinton, MD, who saw her daughter on the side of the track, turning blue with secretions coming out of her mouth. Dr. Grinton is a pediatrician at Atrium Health Levine Children’s Shelby Children’s Clinic. But that day, she was in full parent mode. “I lost my doctor hat – it was so scary. Total mom hat,” she recalls.

The emergency medical team at the track helped Allie get stable, but why she collapsed was still a mystery. As things calmed down after the event, Dr. Grinton was able to think more clearly and called colleague and friend Nancy Hendrix, MD, for help. Dr. Hendrix works at Shelby Children’s Clinic, too, and has been Allie’s pediatrician for years.  

Dr. Hendrix began ruling out possible causes of Allie’s episode, but things weren’t adding up. When all tests came back normal, she decided to play it safe and referred Allie and her family to Randall M. Bryant, MD, to examine the teen’s heart. Dr. Bryant is a pediatric electrophysiologist, a cardiologist at Atrium Health’s Sanger Heart & Vascular Institute and Levine Children’s Hospital who specializes in the heart’s electrical system.

After one ECG – plus a second to be sure – the Grintons got their answer: Allie has Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome, a heart condition she was born with but, until now, never knew she had.  

What is Wolff-Parkinson-White (WPW)?

Wolff-Parkinson-White, or WPW, is a syndrome in which the heart has an extra electrical pathway. This extra pathway can cause a short circuit in the normal heart rhythm, producing a very fast and sometimes irregular heartbeat, or arrhythmia, most often during exercise.

It’s something you’re born with and only affects around 1 to 3 in 1,000 people around the world. Symptoms of Wolff-Parkinson-White include:

  • Heart palpitations
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness
  • Chest pain and tightness

It can also lead to fainting, as Allie experienced firsthand.

Because you need an ECG to diagnose WPW, it’s not something a yearly physical can catch. That’s why Allie went 16 years without knowing she had it and, though cardiac arrest is rare, why many kids with WPW have arrhythmias on the athletic field.

There are different ways to treat Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome, ranging from medication to maneuvers that help your heartrate return to normal. For Allie, a surgery called radiofrequency catheter ablation was the best option. It’s a procedure that inserts catheters into the heart to freeze or burn the extra pathway.

Two weeks after her diagnosis, Allie had her surgery. Not only was it successful, but she was cleared to run almost right away.

Going the extra mile, close to home

Learning you have a rare heart condition and need surgery is a lot to handle. But Allie and her family were happy to have answers and a solution that kept them close to home.

Plus, Levine Children’s Hospital is ranked among the top in the country for pediatric heart care, so the Grintons knew they were exactly where they needed to be. “How nice it was when we left Dr. Bryant’s office, that even though she was having an invasive procedure – I knew she was going to be well taken care of right here in Charlotte,” says Dr. Grinton.

Thanks to Allie’s fast-thinking care team – at the meet, at home and in the doctor’s office – her condition was not only caught, it was quickly managed. And today, the star athlete is back on track, showing the world there’s no hurdle she can’t take.