Karen with her sister

Karen's Atrial Fibrillation Story

Over the course of just two months Karen Grega was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation and rectal cancer

Understandably her life changed dramatically. She is now determined to raise awareness of the symptoms of AF.

It was December 2019, when Karen Grega found out she had the heart arrhythmia condition that affects one in three Australians during their lifetime.

Karen taking a selfie while travelling

Karen recalls: “I woke up and I didn't feel a 100 percent. Honestly, my heart was pounding. I could almost hear it and I thought that doesn’t feel normal. I rang my GP and they told me it could be a couple of hours before they could see me, so I decided to follow my normal routine and go to the gym.

"By the time I had parked my car and walked a little way I had to sit down. I felt so physically ill that I ended up going back to my car and drove straight to the doctors.

"They took my blood pressure and did an ECG and said something was not right and ended up calling an ambulance. I was feeling really weak and quite frankly, really scared at that point.”

Karen was taken to emergency at St Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney. “They gave me medication to try and get my heart to return to a normal rhythm. I ended up staying overnight and the next day they did a cardioversion and I was referred to a cardiologist,” she says.

Karen was put on medication for atrial fibrillation (AF) and for a short while her life settled back down.

“I did the National Bowel Cancer Screening test and got a positive result and my life changed dramatically. It was ironic as only 11 months earlier I had had a colonoscopy and got the all clear,” says Karen.

Karen was diagnosed with rectal cancer. What followed was five weeks of chemo radiotherapy, major surgery, and tablet chemotherapy . Then nearly 12 months to the day of the first cancer diagnosis, she found out she had metastatic liver cancer which required infusion chemotherapy. It led to the removal of her gallbladder and half her liver.

Karen is still having CT scans every three months but is now cancer-free. “Radiotherapy has come a long way, and they can really target the treatment to a confined area, but it has left me with osteoporosis. I’ve had a fractured lower back, a fractured pubic bone and am now dealing with a fractured hip socket,” she says.

Karen Grega with Heartbeat of Football at the Institute's Women against Heart Disease Lunch

Her AF is also largely under control. But one notable AF episode put her back in hospital in 2020.“ I think it was caused by the stress of going through radiotherapy and waiting on some results,” says Karen.

Karen, who is a board member with Heartbeat of Football, now wants to make sure other Australians know the signs of AF. She says:

“I now look back and remember that I did have signs but I did not know anything about AF. There were times when my heartbeat would go a bit crazy. It wasn’t happening once a month or anything, but it did happen on several occasions and in hindsight I should have checked it out."

“Working with Heartbeat of Football has really made me focus on heart health awareness. It’s our engine and we really need to look after it. Don’t ever take it for granted and make sure you listen to what it is telling you.”

Acknowledgement of Country

The Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute acknowledges Traditional Owners of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures; and to Elders past and present.

Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute - The Home of Heart Research for 30 Years