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“Surviving” Atrial Fibrillation

Wes Harper is a survivor — in more ways than one. His journey with atrial fibrillation started in 2017, in a very unique way with no symptoms and none of the typical risk factors. As a huge fan of The Discovery Channel’s survivalist TV series called Naked & Afraid, Wes was awaiting his opportunity to star on the show, where he’d be tasked with surviving for 21 days without food, water or clothes. Before being officially cast, he was required to fly out to California for a medical screening exam where he was completely shocked when a routine EKG identified that he was in atrial fibrillation.

Wesley Harper Featured on the Discovery Channel’s Naked and Afraid

Achieving a Dream: The Discovery Channel’s survivalist TV series called Naked & Afraid

As an avid endurance athlete, husband and father of five who had completed numerous half marathon and iron man events, Wes was only 47 years old and had none of the traditional risk factors such as age, heart disease, diabetes or high blood pressure that most atrial fibrillation patients have. Regardless, he had to get his condition treated before he could go to Brazil for his Naked & Afraid adventure. Wes promptly underwent a cardioversion, which is a simple procedure used to shock the heart back into normal rhythm.  All was well and he was soon on his way for filming the series in April 2018. He survived Brazil for the entire 21 days — living off bugs, frog legs, small amounts of water, and not much else. After enduring the challenge (where he lost 37 pounds!), Wes came back to reality only to go back into atrial fibrillation six months later.

Going Back Into Atrial Fibrillation

This time, he felt all the symptoms, which he describes as being anxious, jittery and extremely stressed out for no reason. He was cardioverted again for just long enough to get a tattoo of a clean EKG when he fell back into a-fib after just two weeks.

This time, Wes was on the hunt to find the best possible cardiologist who could take care of his a-fib once and for all. He knew he hadn’t survived 21 days of blood, sweat and tears to be saddled with an abnormal heart rhythm. This time, on his business partner and friend’s recommendation, Wes found WakeMed Heart & Vascular’s nationally-renowned Dr. Patrick Hraniztky — a board-certified electrophysiologist (EP) who specializes in complex rhythm disorders and the most advanced procedures available to treat them.

Finding WakeMed Heart & Vascular

In March 2019, Wes underwent a catheter ablation, which is a non-surgical treatment where Dr. Hranitzy destroyed (ablated) the tissue that was causing the irregular rhythm. The scar tissue that formed thereafter is now keeping Wes’ heart in normal rhythm and he’s feeling great.

While some may consider him “crazy” for going on Naked & Afraid with a heart condition, Wes credits his experience in Brazil with giving him a whole new perspective on life — one with less worries and less stress for sure.

Discovering a Heart Healthy Mindset

“As a busy technology business owner and father of five, I was under a pretty significant amount of stress before the show,” he explains. “But being out there and living off the land reminds you that there are very few things you actually need to survive. I quickly realized I could live with nothing but water, 100 calories a day and knowing I have a loving family and good relationships to come home to. Now that I’m back, I no longer sweat the small stuff or check my email every five minutes because I know what’s important.  And I’m pretty sure that perspective is good for my heart.”