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Local Woman Relishing ‘Second Chance At Life’
OCEAN CITY – Using an alternative approach of meditation in healing herself after two heart surgeries to avoid cardiac death, Chrissy Ehrhart-Knight finds herself back to her everyday life only weeks later.
In the summer of 2011 Ehrhart-Knight, 37, of Berlin was diagnosed with Lyme’s Disease and in the months following she began to experience a number of symptoms, such as being excessively tired. Doctors couldn’t figure out was wrong. Her young age and symptoms of fatigue did not make sense, her medical team concluded.
During each doctor’s appointment, Ehrhart-Knight, co-owner of Zenna Wellness in Berlin where she teaches zumba and aerial yoga, began to notice her recorded heart rate drop lower and lower, but the doctor related it to the exercise she endured.
About eight months later, her heart rate was in the low 40’s. A normal heart rate ranges from 60 to 100 beats per minute.
She met with Dr. Emmanuel Nsah, a cardiologist, at the Peninsula Regional Medical Center in Salisbury and he diagnosed her with a rare diagnosis of Sick Sinus Syndrome, also known as sinus node dysfunction, a collection of heart rhythm disorders that include sinus bradycardia, which slows the heart rate from the natural pacemaker of the heart, or sinus pauses or arrest, which is when the natural pacemaker of the heart stops working for periods of time.
Over time, she tried different remedies but nothing seemed to be working and her heart rate eventually reached the low 30’s.
In May, Ehrhart-Knight had her first heart surgery to implant an internal heart monitor. The heart monitor showed that in the course of the day she would have over 150 bradycardic episodes, which means her heart rate would drop under 40 beats per minute.
“The amazing thing about it was that whole year even though my heart rate was dropping because I was being active it was keeping my heart strong enough until the diagnosis,” she said.
Ehrhart-Knight, who has a young daughter and is married to local musician Phil Knight, said when she remained active the heart monitor would show that she had about a dozen bradycardic episodes a day and when she stopped physical activity that is when it went above 150 episodes.
“I wasn’t in any danger of having a heart attack, but I was in danger of going into cardiac death because we didn’t know how long my heart would be strong enough to recover after those drastic drops,” she said.
On July 13, Ehrhart-Knight had her second heart surgery and a pacemaker was installed. Two weeks later, she fell and to protect her pacemaker she landed on her right shoulder breaking it.
“During the two heart surgeries and broken shoulder, I never used any pain medication at all,” Ehrhart-Knight said. “It is not easy and I am no hero. I did all meditation and Yoga Nidra.”
Meditation and Yoga Nidra, which is a meditation technique, are both instructed at Zenna Wellness and it became an everyday tool for her.
“With that and my faith, knowing God had a reason for me to still be alive, that is what got me through,” she said.
While in the hospital, Ehrhart-Knight would practice a form of meditation called guided visualization and would visualize her cells regenerating and becoming new at the incision sight.
“In the first two weeks, I pretty much healed miraculously,” she said. “My doctor was blown away and I really owe it all to prayer because God made me strong enough to resist the temptation of doing any kind of pain medication.”
Ehrhart-Knight’s use of meditation while in the hospital was adopted from Dr. Andrew Weil, who has conducted controlled groups of guided visualization to heal cancer patients. She has been following his techniques in meditation for a number of years and has practiced the form of meditation with other injuries, such as back aches.
“Each day got easier and easier with the pain,’ she said. “It was painful, don’t get me wrong, but it amazes me how powerful the mind can be when you just apply it. Everyone can do it, it’s just up to the individual to have the willpower to do it and choose that.”
Ehrhart-Knight was back helping out at Zenna Wellness about a week after her last surgery. She had gone from not being able to walk up steps and falling asleep at the dinner table to playing soccer with her daughter three weeks after heart surgery.
“It has been such an amazing journey because not only do I have a second chance at life again but now I can help change things and help other people with it too,” she said.
Ehrhart-Knight has become a public speaker for Zenna Wellness sharing the classes and services the studio provides, along with her story and how the exercise and meditation saved her life.
Ehrhart-Knight is not against others using western medicine but she knew it was not for her from negative experiences in the past, as well as addiction runs in her family.
“I think pain meds serve a purpose and people need them to help, but I personally have challenged myself to not take pain meds so I could prove to myself that I could do it with my mind and through meditation,” she said.
Ehrhart-Knight began practicing meditation at the age of 23. Her uncle is a Buddhist and taught her to begin when conducting chores, for example washing dishes. She would concentrate on washing dishes alone and if another thought crosses meditation’s path, which is called chatter, it is acknowledged and dismissed. Eventually, she found herself using meditation in other daily activities.
Ehrhart-Knight lost both of her parents at a young age and found meditation has helped her significantly through the grieving process.
“That is the power of your mind and acknowledging and honoring who you are because you might wake up and be sad and depressed and then the next day you will be angry … I taught myself to honor each of those so I wouldn’t get stuck there,” she said. “I was allowing myself to feel it and that is very important when people grieve.”Ehrhart-Knight is happy to say she is back to living an active life and feeling well.
“It has been amazing to get my life back and it is definitely a lesson learned to stay positive and remain focused and driven in life, keep taking in positivity, letting it out and passing it on,” she said.