Staying active has always been important to Sandra Ewing. After turning 70, she continues to walk with weights three miles a day, golf on a regular basis and loves to play on the playground with her grandchildren. Many who know her have no idea she was living with chronic atrial fibrillation (AFib) — a common heart rhythm disorder caused by a problem in the upper chambers of the heart that can lead to blood clots, stroke, heart failure and other heart-related conditions.
“I didn’t feel like AFib was affecting my quality of life, but I was taking medication for years to help control it and I didn’t like the way they made me feel,” said Sandra, who lives in San Juan Capistrano. “I also noticed I was bruising easily, and I didn’t want to feel dragged down or worried about the side effects or future complications.”
Sandra met with Sevak Darbinian, MD, FACS, FACC, board-certified cardiothoracic surgeon and chief of cardiothoracic surgery at Mission Hospital, who told her about a new procedure to treat patients with long-term AFib — the convergent procedure.
“With traditional catheter ablation, abnormal electrical tissue located inside the heart is cauterized to put the heart back into rhythm,” said Dr. Darbinian. “Studies have shown that with people who have had AFib for a long time, this procedure might not be sufficient as the body appears to heal the tissue destruction, leading to a return of rhythm disturbance.”
Mission Hospital was the first hospital in California and is the only hospital in Orange County to offer the convergent procedure, which combines the expertise of two doctors working together. First, a cardiothoracic surgeon inserts a scope through a small incision below the sternum and ablates (or creates small scars) on the back of the heart to stop the electrical activity causing AFib. Once the surgeon completes the ablation on the outside of the heart, the electrophysiologist then threads an ablation catheter through a vein in the groin to reach the inside of the heart and performs a procedure to proof check and eliminate AFib triggers.
“By going inside and outside of the heart, we are treating the afib from all angles,” said Aseem Desai, MD, FACC, FHRS, board-certified cardiac electrophysiologist who performed her procedure along with Dr. Darbinian. “The combined approach helps give patients the best chance of restoring and maintaining normal rhythm and reducing the likelihood they’ll need to continue taking medication.”
Sandra says she now has more energy than ever before. “My new ‘normal’ feels so much better,” she said. “I know now that this is the way I’m supposed to feel.”
When it comes to AFib, early recognition is key. An easy way to monitor your heart is to check your pulse. Place the tips of your third and fourth fingers on the palm side of your other wrist, below the base of the thumb or on your lower neck on either side of your windpipe. A change in the heart’s rhythm may feel like an extra-strong heartbeat or a fluttering in your chest. If you recognize an irregular rhythm, Dr. Desai recommends consulting your physician immediately.
Stereotaxis: Revolutionizing Treatment for Cardiac Arrhythmia
If you suffer from cardiac arrhythmia, you may feel dizziness, lightheadedness, experience fainting or near-fainting spells, feel a rapid heartbeat or have shortness of breath or chest pain.
“When electrical impulses that coordinate heartbeats aren’t timed properly, the heart can beat too fast, too slow, or irregularly,” said Dr. Desai. “If left untreated, these abnormal heart beat variations can lead to stroke, other serious complications and even death.”
Mission Hospital’s Heart Center offers several advanced treatment options, including the Stereotaxis remote magnetic navigation system to treat premature ventricular contractions (PVCs), or extra, abnormal heartbeats.
The Stereotaxis system allows physicians to safely navigate in a patient’s heart to ablate diseased tissue causing cardiac arrhythmias or irregular heartbeats. The physician uses sophisticated software to draw a highly detailed 3-D map of the diseased cardiac tissue. Following the map, powerful magnets lead a soft catheter gently through the heart by guiding the catheter’s magnetic tip. As a result, the patient is exposed to up to 60 percent less damaging X-ray radiation, and there’s also 10 times less chance of major complications.
“The Stereotaxis technology was designed with the patient’s safety in mind and delivers a new standard of precision for cardiac electrophysiologists,” Dr. Desai said. “The catheters we use with Stereotaxis are soft, almost like noodles, so there is very little chance of creating a hole or perforation during the procedure. It also allows us good contact with the tissue, which results in better ablation lesions and in turn better outcomes.”
This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.