6 Unusual Heart-Shaped Facts
1: Can You Die of a Broken Heart?
Is dying of a broken heart a myth or can it really happen?
When someone receives a terrible shock - perhaps this could be a death of a loved one - they could indeed themselves die. Tragic news is known to bring on a heart attack - or perhaps a stroke - so severe the victim doesn't survive.
But research has now established that it isn't always the case that the person who gets the shock has suffered a heart attack at all, but that doesn't mean they haven't got a heart disorder. They may be suffering from 'broken heart syndrome'.
When bad news is delivered the body receives a rush of adrenaline. Mostly this is a harmless, even helpful stimulant, but in extreme cases it can be fatal. And crucially, adrenaline rushes affect the heart.
Fifteen years ago 'broken heart syndrome' wasn't understood at all. It took a Japanese doctor from Hiroshima, Hikaru Sato, who recognised that certain patients didn't display the classic symptoms associated with a heart attack. Instead he observed that the heart's arteries remained unblocked and mysteriously the heart changed shape, taking on the form of a vase with a narrow neck and a bulbous bottom. It was this malformation that prompted the doctor to bestow the name of takotsumo cardiomyopathy on this new found syndrome, based on the shape of the octopus pots used by fishermen working at Hiroshima's harbour¹.
People at risk may have a history of chronic stress, have an allergy or experience asthma attacks and when a takotsumo attack occurs it's as if the heart does not know what to do and becomes paralysed. It's a bit like it's been punched with a knock-out blow and stops.
Adrenaline, often administered as a kick start to heart attack patients, is the nemesis of those with takotsumo. Far from improving the condition of the patient, a shot of adrenaline is likely to make them worse, even kill them. The problem lies in the fact that initially the patient presents symptoms of a similar nature and the person undergoing heart failure also may themselves believe they are having a heart attack, so it's vital to register the fundamentally different signs.
Once an ECG reveals ballooning of the left ventricle and the absence of any arterial blockage, doctors can embark on effective treatment. Of the 10% or so of those presenting with cardiac pain, 2% will have takotsumo. Mechanical support or drugs to help the heart contract and start pumping blood again is a safe option for the person with the syndrome.
Takotsumo can last anything from 24 hours to a week. Ten percent of people who have undergone an attack of will have a recurrence so it's crucial to be aware of the basic differences between a common heart attack and this more unfamiliar condition.
Fortunately takotsumo is becoming more widely understood. Studies now reveal that 70%-80% of cases occur in women and the major plus is that the damage is reversible with no long term ill effects - most people who have had takotsumo are well again within a month.
So, just to be aware, if you or someone with you, has just had a bout of huge stress, and this can be anything from having to get up on stage to give a public speech to upset over a massive argument - even an unexpected birthday party surprise can be the trigger - and falls ill, then stop and think - could this be takotsumo cardiomyopathy?
Illustration of a Takotsumo Heart (A) and a Normal Heart (B)
2: Hearts on the Outside
So rare is it for a baby in the womb to be observed developing with its heart growing outside the body, a children's heart consultant had to google the condition known as Ectopia cordis.
The parents, Dean and Naomi, had been advised to terminate the pregnancy as most cases resulted in stillbirth or death soon after birth, but as they could see their daughter moving on the scan they opted to give her a the chance of life.
Under the supervision of a team of fifty, Vanellope Hope was born by caesarean section. Yet she yelled to announce she was alive and kicking and measures were immediately taken to stabalise this miracle birth by inserting tubes into the umbilical cord to relieve the heart of stress. Less than an hour later this tiny fighter was undergoing an operation to lower her heart into her chest cavity.
After a week Vanellope was strong enough to be operated on to open up her chest again to create more space for the heart and to protect it with a special membrane to replace her missing ribs and sternum which hadn't formed during the pregnancy. Finally surgeons grafted skin from her armpits to close the wound in an astonishing operation number three. Medics are reasonably confident she can go on to enjoy a full and normal existence.2
Vanellope isn't the only child to survive this extremely rare condition, even though the odds are stacked against it. Statistically between 5-8 babies in one million develop Ectopedia cordis with almost no chance of even making it through the birth. Yet, in August 1975, a boy was born who has come through with flying colours.
After spending the first three years in hospital and the subsequent three at home with round the clock care, Christopher Wall finally had an operation to take bone from his hip to form a breastbone. Nevertheless, the position of his heart still posed a problem, situated just under the skin, so surgeons fashioned a plastic covering to safeguard the delicate organ.3
This remarkable survivor went on to practice karate and play basketball with his mates, and as he became an adult, hold down a job. If there was ever grounds for hope, this case surely embodies the sentiment: never give up.
3: The Hummingbird's Heart
How does the smallest bird in the world manage to sustain those blurred unbelievably fast wing beats?
It's all to do with its heart which can attain an astonishing 1260 beats per minute to maintain that rapid rotation (hummingbirds don't flap their wings, they move their pectoral muscles in a figure of eight action).Whilst the blue-throated hummingbird has reached that incredible record, other breeds may easily pump at a rate of 250 beats per minute.
To conserve energy at night, the hummingbird puts the brakes on this fast pumping heart and slows it down to somewhere in the region of 50 beats per minute. If it couldn't effectively induce a state of torpor in the wee small hours this tough little bird would be starving by morning.
By comparison an average human adult's heartbeat measures a mere 60-100 beats per minute but then we're not attempting 250 gyrations of our arms every 60 seconds. Admittedly that's at the top end, but even so the bottom end is still a massive 50.4
The hummingbird heart weighs about 2.5% of its overall body weight and its incredible heart pace has been famously enshrined in lyrics by Katy Perry in her song Hummingbird Heart in which she describes the way her heart mimics that of a hummingbird's when she's with her lover. It's generally believed she had her then fiancé in mind, Russell Brand, when she penned those words.
Hummingbirds don't flap their wings, they move their pectoral muscles in a figure of eight action.
Film of Baby Hummingbird's Heartbeat Seen Through its Plumage
4: Why Are There Hearts on Playing Cards?
Playing cards date back hundreds of years and were probably brought to the west from China. It wasn't until the fourteenth century that cards with suits as we know them came into popular use in Europe, via the Islamic world and were likely to have been influenced by heraldic symbols, nature, and objects in common usage.
Heart-shaped leaves like ivy became spades but they were interchangeable with their counterpart in Italy and Spain where swords formed the suit. The word for sword in Spanish is espada, from which we get our word spade. In the same way the model for a chalice morphed into a heart.
Acorns or the French trefoil, transformed into clubs, and money was symbolised by diamonds, also the sign for religious nobility and termed carreaux. Now we have our familiar four suits: hearts, diamonds, spades and clubs.5
Hearts Penalty Cards For the Game Black Lady
Lewis Carrol famously cast the Queen of Hearts as the evil playing card in his imaginative book 'Alice in Wonderland' where she lauds it over a pack of cards.
5: Heart-Shaped Swimming Pools
Sydney, Australia, and speculation abounded on how much a luxury warehouse conversion with a heart-shaped swimming pool in the garden fetched in 2015. The general figure bandied about was $7.5 million, though the true purchase price was not forthcoming either from the new owners or the estate agent.
Swimming pools taking a heart as the template are incredibly popular. Indeed they are the most sought after if you have the sort of bank account that allows a luxuriously bespoke choice.You only have to flick through Pinterest to get an idea. Prices for for an in-ground pool start somewhere in the region of $35,000 and that doesn't begin to include all the extras, and don't forget to factor in the maintenance. It's not unusual for a final bill of $100,000 to be posted through the mail box.
Considered the height of romance, could you imagine yourself on a floating lounger, cocktail in hand, gently swaying on the blue reflected water on sunny day? Covered in sunscreen to protect myself from the sun's not so friendly stare, maybe. Just for a short time.
Famously, the actress Jayne Mansfield, put a heart shaped swimming pool on her wish list when she married second husband Mikey Hargitay. Her wish was granted and she had the privilege of being able to dip her toes into a forty foot wide pool in her favourite pink, matching the house, whenever the whim took her.6
On a more modest budget, maybe consider a heart shaped hot tub instead, or head off to a resort or hotel offering a hearty experience for that exceptional romantic getaway. There are plenty of them. Now that I could manage without a moment's thought. None of the hassle having my garden dug up and huge ongoing expenses or worries about safety. Or head inside and bathe in your heart-shaped bath tub in the en suite to your room. Doesn't matter what the weather's up to outside. You can be romantically inclined, warm and out of the wind all year round.
If you'd prefer the chemical-free natural experience of a heart shaped pool, why not take a hike to Killarney Glen in South East Queensland? Erosion of the surrounding rocks has carved out this exquisite and popular rock pool. Complete with a creek and waterfall the pristine water is enjoyed by children and adults alike.
How to Create Your Own Heart-Shaped Swimming Pool
The celebrity Casey Kalem was another lover of heart shaped swimming pools. The radio personality and voice of 'Shaggy' in the TV series Scooby Doo, had one set in formal gardens reminiscent of an English country house, against a backdrop of classical follies.
The Heart Nebula
6: The Heart Nebula
A nebula is a gathering of gas and dust and gets its name from the Latin for cloud, nebulae. It's where new stars are born, and they are also known as star nurseries. On the reverse side of the coin, stars die in nebulae too.
One of the most well known nebulae is the Heart Nebula, hanging enigmatically in the night sky 7500 light years away from Earth. Its official name is not so romantic - IC 1805. Happily for us blessed with a fanciful imagination, IC 1805 emits a red glow to match our usual vision of a heart. The red look is created by nearby hydrogen gas and the glow is the result of the radiation of a little cluster of stars called Melotte 15.
How do you find the Heart Nebula in the night sky? First of all you have to locate the constellation Cassiopeia and pinpoint it within this group of stars. Cassiopeia is identified as a W or M outline and is one of the easiest constellations to spot. Most of us are familiar with the Big and Small Dippers. Where the handle of the Big Dipper joins the cup, take a line up through the last star of the Little Dipper, which is Polaris, carry on keeping straight and you are right there.
You probably won't be able to detect the Heart Nebula within the constellation as it's not visible with the naked eye, even though it's 200 light years across and approximately five times the diameter of the Earth's moon. I'm afraid you'll need a telescope to view it first hand but there are a whole host of pictures astrophotograhers have taken to see it in its full glory if you don't have one. Because it's proximal to the Soul Nebula the two are often paired up as Heart and Soul so have a peek at the two together as well.
And for anyone who might disinclined to see IC 1805 as a heart, there is an alternative nickname they can choose to call it by: Running Dog Nebula, or if they choose to distance themselves from any quixotic notions, Sharpless 2-190 is a plainer substitute.7
1 BBC Radio Four Inside Health
2 Leicestershire Hospitals News
3 ABC News
4 World of Humming Birds
5 Chambers Encyclopaedia
6 NWI Times
7 Atlas of the World
© 2018 Frances Metcalfe