Geaux Hero: Our Lady of the Lake Heart Doctor Treats LSU Softball Player for Rare Condition

Apr 25, 2024 | Team Member Spotlights

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Sierra Daniel started her career on the LSU Softball team with a trip to the hospital to treat a rare heart condition. That’s not how any student athlete wants to begin their first season. But for Sierra, it was a quick fix that got her back in the infield in no time thanks to the heart specialists at Our Lady of the Lake Health. 

LSU Softball Player

C. Andrew Smith, MD, a cardiologist and electrophysiologist with Our Lady of the Lake Heart & Vascular Insitute, led her care team.

In August 2023, during a routine physical and electrocardiogram (or EKG) that’s part of every student athlete’s pre-season schedule, the Our Lady of the Lake Team discovered that Sierra had Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome. 

This congenital heart defect causes a fast heartbeat because an extra pathway for electrical signals exists between the heart’s upper and lower chambers. The increased heartbeat can happen at any time, even at times of rest. 

“The heart rate goes from 60 beats per minute to 220 beats per minute all of a sudden,” Dr. Smith explains. “It can make you feel like you’re about to pass out, or get dizzy, and you can be incapacitated by that.” 

Finding a Quick and Effective Solution 

For some people with the syndrome, it might go away after a few minutes. For others, some instances can last longer and worry them enough to go to the emergency room. 

Sierra had experienced this elevated heartbeat before. 

“My heart rate would get super high, and I could hear my heart bumping super fast and that wasn’t good,” she says. 

For Dr. Smith and the rest of Sierra’s care team, the solution was obvious: a cardiac ablation. As an electrophysiologist, Dr. Smith considers himself an “electrician for the heart,” specializing in treating cardiac arrhythmias, such as irregular or fast heartbeats. 

Dr. Smith and other cardiac experts at Our Lady of the Lake perform cardiac ablations almost daily. 

In the procedure, a thin, flexible tube is inserted into a vein in the leg and travels up to the heart. The tube uses sensors to locate the area in the heart that’s causing the irregular signals. Then, radiofrequency energy is used to make a “scar” that will block the faulty signal and restore a normal heartbeat.  

Dr. Smith says the procedure happens over a few hours with mild sedation, and the patient is able to return home the same evening. 

That was the case for Sierra, who returned to Our Lady of the Lake for a checkup a few days later and was quickly cleared to play again for the softball team. 

“When you ablate that little spot, it doesn’t come back — it’s gone forever,” Dr. Smith says. “She doesn’t have to worry about that anymore, and she’s 100% cleared for participating in all her softball activities.” 

Partnering for Healthy Athletes 

Sierra, who is originally from Arizona, was grateful that her mom was able to fly to Baton Rouge to be at her side during the procedure, which helped calm her nerves during the procedure. She’s also thankful to the care team at Our Lady of the Lake. 

“I just feel grateful that it wasn’t that severe that they were able to catch it and take care of it,” she says. 

Dr. Smith says Sierra’s case is a perfect illustration of the partnership Our Lady of the Lake has with LSU to care for student athletes. It’s rare for a collegiate athletic program to have such a close relationship with a cardiac care team, as well as the ability to perform an in-house EKG as part of routine physicals. 

“That’s why you put them through so much more heart screenings as athletes to make sure this doesn’t happen,” Dr. Smith says. “It’s catching this before it’s a problem. It’s incredibly important to screen these kids for these issues so we can make sure they are as safe as they can be while they are participating in sports at LSU.” 

LSU Softball head coach Beth Torina sees the benefit of this sports medicine partnership as well for her players. 

“They’re able to get cutting-edge treatment right away. This was something that this athlete has had her entire life that we were able to find virtually the first day she stepped on campus,” Beth says. “I think our partnership with Our Lady of the Lake gets our athletes performing at the highest level. We keep them on the field, we keep them healthy and we keep them confident knowing we’re going to give them the best care and the best treatment of anywhere in the country.” 

For Dr. Smith’s role in treating Sierra, he is being honored as one of Our Lady of the Lake’s Geaux Heroes, which recognizes incredible stories of strength and resilience. He is being recognized April 26 at the LSU Softball game against Arkansas.  

Learn more about the exceptional heart care we offer at Our Lady of the Lake Health and throughout our health system 

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