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A Heart of Goals

Andrea Laughery’s story

The mountains are never far from Andrea Laughery’s mind or heart. A lifelong hiker, the Bremerton-based photographer began climbing mountains with her father, an avid mountaineer who passed away two years ago.

Soon after, Andrea began experiencing painful chest contractions that seemed to come and go at random. As a fit, active runner in her early 30s, Andrea didn’t suspect a heart condition; she thought she was experiencing grief and anxiety. She continued training for her big goals, including a trail half-marathon and a series of mountain summits planned for the spring and summer of 2019.

That’s when her heart health began slowing her down. As her chest contractions became more frequent, Andrea started feeling dizzy, short of breath, and fatigued.

With her goals on the horizon, Andrea knew she needed some answers. She decided to seek medical help and learned that she was experiencing regular premature ventricular contractions, or PVCs, a type of heart arrhythmia. “I found out that 20 percent of my heartbeats were PVCs, so they were really impacting my heart’s ability to function properly,” she said.

Andrea’s Virginia Mason Franciscan Health cardiologist Gopi Dandamudi, MD, MBA, told her that renegade cells in her heart were causing the irregular heartbeats. He recommended that Andrea consider a cardiac ablation procedure to restore her cardiac function and resolve her symptoms.

“I was really nervous about the surgery and its impact on my running and mountain climbing goals,” said Andrea. “Dr. Dandamudi took the time to clearly explain the procedure and answer my questions. During my first appointments with him, I made it clear that I’m training heavily for this goal and I’ve been working on it for a long time. He knew all that going in, and he seemed to genuinely care about it.”

Andrea’s cardiac ablation procedure took place on April 5, 2019 at Harrison Medical Center in Bremerton. Within a few weeks, she was able to resume her training for her planned mountain summits.

One month after surgery, Andrea completed the Sunflower Trail Half Marathon in Winthrop, Washington. She went on to summit Mt. St. Helens one week later and reached the peaks of Mt. Baker and Mt. Rainier the following month. Throughout her adventures, she felt healthy and strong, she said.

“Dr. Dandamudi was so calm, patient and kind. He really cared about me as a person,” she said.

With her heart’s rhythm restored, Andrea is planning her next outdoor explorations with her husband and two young children. “After I summited Mt. Rainier, Dr. Dandamudi asked me to let him know how it went,” she said. “I told him that my heart performed beautifully in the altitude.”