‘I’m just happy to be here’ | Heart procedure saves St. Ambrose athlete’s life

After her sophomore year, Keeli Frerich discovered she had a low heart rate. A year and a half later, she would undergo a life-changing procedure.

DAVENPORT, Iowa — For many years, soccer has been a huge passion for Keeli Frerich. Her passion would lead her to play at St. Ambrose University. Exercising has been a way for the athlete to relieve stress and has been part of her life for a long time. 

“I was a three-sport athlete in high school,” the Geneseo native said. “Playing soccer with my older brother sparked my interest in soccer and I always wanted to continue that passion as long as I wanted to.” 

That passion would change at the end of her sophomore year when she started to lose weight and developed a low heart rate, nearing the low 40s throughout the day and dropping to the 30s at night. 

“Every time that I go to sleep at night, I was at risk for not waking up,” Frerich said. “My hands would start to go numb when I was sleeping, and I would get headaches really easily when I was lying down.”

She was pulled from soccer and her doctor recommended gaining weight in hopes that would raise her heart rate. However, things continued on with little change.

“After about a year and a half of not getting any answers, my primary care physician decided to refer me out to the University of Iowa,” Frerich added. 

At the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, she would meet with doctors and undergo a procedure called cardioneuroablation. The procedure involves burning nerve endings that are causing slow heart rhythm but only a handful of doctors across the country even specialize in it. 

“I was like, wow, okay, a heart procedure at 21. That’s kind of crazy,” Frerich said. “I was glad it was successful, it definitely was a big relief for my family and I.” 

After a week of recovery, she was able to return to physical activities. 

“I noticed that my heart rate was higher,” Frerich said. “I have way more circulation, my body feels warmer. I just feel so much better. I’m just really appreciative to even just be here.” 

While her soccer career at the university might be over, Frerich is now enrolled in a graduate program at St. Ambrose University. She hopes to be able to have a career in physical therapy or coaching.

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