Caleigh – Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome

Caleigh McLay sitting with her head resting on her hand

Back in October 2022, Caleigh McLay of Uniontown, Pa., had a bug bite that was bad enough, her parents decided to take her to a nearby urgent care. Caleigh was noted to have a high heart rate, for which she was recommended to see her pediatrician.

Caleigh’s mom, Renee, made an appointment with her pediatrician the next day, where they did an electrocardiogram, or EKG. An EKG records the electrical signal from the heart to check for different heart conditions. This EKG was read in Uniontown and Caleigh was diagnosed with Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome (WPW).

Caleigh McLay standing on a cheer megaphone with her arms in the airWPW syndrome can cause the heart to beat abnormally fast for periods of time. It’s caused by an extra electrical connection in the heart. Even though the problem is present at birth, symptoms might not develop until later in life.

In fact, Caleigh says, “I would often feel my heart racing, but I didn’t know it wasn’t normal to feel my heart beating out of my chest.”

This very rapid abnormal heart rate is called supraventricular tachycardia.

Renee says their pediatrician was great and referred Caleigh to a pediatric cardiologist at a children’s hospital in West Virginia, even offering to set up the appointment for them. But the first available appointment was in February 2023 – more than three months away.

“I said ‘I’m not comfortable with that,’” says Renee. “I asked them to call Pittsburgh instead.” This all occurred on October 10th. Within a week they had an appointment with a pediatric cardiologist – Dr. Tyler Harris -- at a UPMC Children’s East in Monroeville, Pa. “That’s where I was more comfortable anyway,” she says.

In 2022-23, U.S. News & World Report ranked UPMC Children’s #6 on its Honor Roll of Best Children’s Hospitals, and its Pediatric Cardiology and Heart Surgery program is ranked #3 in the nation.

By the end of October, Caleigh had her first appointment with Dr. Gaurav Arora, a pediatric electrophysiologist, or electrical heart specialist and the associate director of electrophysiology.

“I would give him an A+,” says Renee. “The things he was telling us were very, very scary. He probably said ‘sudden death’ seven times. Still, he was absolutely awesome. He didn’t try to rush us.” They discussed a procedure to potentially correct her WPW via heart catheterization.

Caleigh McLay on a chair stretching her leg up in the air while wearing a dance unitardCaleigh is the youngest of Renee and Richard’s three children.

Renee says, “Caleigh is a super-active kid. She’s done competitive dance her whole life, tumbling, and cheerleading. Hearing Dr. Arora tell us what she had going on and her risks – that she had this her whole life – was mind-blowing.”

Caleigh had a procedure on Jan. 4 to correct the extra, hyperactive electrical connection. The procedure is called catheter ablation and in it, Dr. Arora inserted a tube (a catheter) into a vein near the groin up toward the heart. The area causing the extra electrical connection was then destroyed. Caleigh’s procedure took about three hours, and she stayed in the hospital overnight. She went home the next day.

Caleigh says she immediately felt a difference after the catheterization procedure. Before, she would have intermittent episodes of rapid heart rate, and even felt dizzy at times with the rapid heart rate. After the procedure, she hasn’t had any more episodes of the racing heartbeat.

 “I went from one extreme to the other,” she says.

Caleigh transferred from California University of Pennsylvania to Penn State Fayette after her diagnosis. Now, she returns to UPMC Children’s every six months for follow-up EKGs to make sure her heart continues to perform as expected. She’s majoring in psychology, living at home, and teaching kids from 6 to 12 to dance.