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A Steady Heart: One Man’s Journey from AFib to a Regular Heartbeat

February 23, 2015

“I have no control over getting atrial fibrillation, but I do have control over getting it fixed.”

These were the words of Thomas Coons, a patient of mine who came to me with an atrial fibrillation diagnosis.

Thomas’ story begins at the gym, where he first experienced irregular heartbeats while walking on a treadmill. Within just a few minutes of moderate exercise, his heart rate had climbed to over 190 beats per minute, which is well above the average maximum heart rate for a man in his 70’s.

Knowing something was wrong, Thomas and his wife Adrienne rushed to the emergency room where he was stabilized and released—but the problem persisted. After another emergency room visit, doctors attempted cardioversion three times, but each attempt was unsuccessful. Thomas’ heartbeat would not convert to a regular rhythm.

Thomas had , or “afib”, a type of irregular heartbeat that occurs when rapid or erratic electrical signals cause the upper chambers of the heart to beat irregularly, and often too quickly. When this occurs, blood is not pumped completely into the two lower chambers of the heart, causing the walls of atria to fibrillate or quiver irregularly. The leftover blood pools in the atria can cause a variety of health problems, including the potential for blood clots and stroke.

Thomas needed an intervention for his afib. That’s where we came in.

A Collaborative Treatment: Hybrid Ablation

Worried that he would live only a few years and require ongoing medication medication, Thomas came to our practice in hopes that there would be a better treatment option. After evaluating a wide range of factors, we determined that he was a good candidate for a procedure called hybrid ablation.

Hybrid ablation is a minimally invasive treatment performed by a team of cardiac specialists that includes a cardiac surgeon and an electrophysiologist. During the procedure, small incisions are made in the abdomen and groin. Using surgical techniques, the cardiac surgeon creates scar tissue on the outside of the heart, while the electrophysiologist uses a catheter to reach and scar the tissue on the inside of the heart. This hybrid approach effectively blocks the errant electrical signals that are causing the irregular heartbeat.

After his surgery, Thomas’ heartbeat did not immediately convert to a normal rhythm. While initially disappointing, this is not abnormal, as patients can often take weeks to several months to convert. Sure enough, Thomas awoke one morning about two months after the procedure and proclaimed that his heartbeat was normal. Tests later confirmed this.

Taking Control of Your Health

Today, Thomas and Adrienne, herself a cardiac patient, continue to live a happy and active life together. Both have returned to activities that they enjoy, like walking and running.

If there’s a lesson to learn from Thomas’ story, it is that you should not ignore signals that your body is sending you. Thomas could have ignored his rapid heartbeat, and his symptoms may have subsided with time. But he took charge and immediately sought expert care to fix what was wrong with his heart.

I encourage everyone reading this article to take control of your health and listen to your body. Understand that there is help available, even for the most complex conditions. If you experience any of the signs of cardiac or symptoms, such as irregular heartbeat or chest pain, it is imperative that you visit an emergency department as soon as possible. In cases such as Thomas’, this is a life-saving measure.

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