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When ordinary is extraordinary
Freezing atrial fibrillation in its tracks
Tim Berry was finally living the life he had always wanted. He had dropped 75 pounds and become a competitive bodybuilder. He was running two successful auto body shops with his brother. And most importantly, he had discovered his life’s true purpose: helping local unhoused residents, many of whom were battling the same addictions that had once consumed his life.
But then Tim began experiencing a rapid heart rate for prolonged periods and was eventually diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, a serious medical condition that can get progressively worse over time. After all that he had been through, Tim wondered if he might lose the second chance at life for which he’d fought so hard.
Atrial fibrillation, also known as AFib, is an irregular, rapid heart rate that can cause symptoms like heart palpitations, fatigue, and shortness of breath. AFib occurs when the upper chambers of the heart (atria) beat out of rhythm. As a result, blood is not pumped efficiently to the rest of the body, causing an unusually fast heart rate and irregular rhythm, quivering, or thumping sensations in the heart. Not only can AFib negatively impact quality of life, but those who have AFib are five times more likely to form blood clots and suffer a stroke.1 While antiarrhythmic medication can effectively treat AFib, this approach doesn’t work to manage the condition effectively for all patients and can cause side effects such as nausea, tiredness, and potential kidney damage.2-4
For many years, the gold standard for the minimally invasive interventional treatment of AFib involved using radiofrequency energy emitted from a catheter to ablate (or burn) the heart tissue around the pulmonary veins, which are often the cause of uncontrolled electrical signals in the heart. Ablating this tissue forms a scar (or lesion) that will stop or block these electrical signals, allowing the heart to beat properly. But then a team of engineers and scientists in Canada came up with an ingenious idea: using cold energy for cardiac ablations. By using a nitrous oxide refrigerant within a catheter frozen to minus 70 degrees Celsius, the team deduced, physicians could use cold energy to create the scar needed to address the uncontrolled electrical signals in the heart. “Many physicians were very reluctant to even try cryoablation at first,” said Jean-Pierre Lalonde, a senior principal mechanical engineer at Medtronic who once worked for CryoCath, the Canadian company that pioneered cryoablation. “They had been performing radiofrequency ablations for years and the thought of using a cold energy catheter working at very high pressure inside the heart sounded a little crazy.” But Medtronic saw the value in the novel technology, purchased CryoCath in 2008, and continued to drive the innovation of cryoablation.
Since using a point-by-point catheter was still a time-intensive procedure for physicians, Medtronic engineers wanted to find a more efficient way to apply cold energy to the funnel-like area around the pulmonary veins. But first they needed to create a catheter design that would be small enough to maintain a minimally invasive procedure and could expand once inside the heart. They looked to an unexpected source. “A balloon turned out to be a perfect solution for pulmonary vein isolation,” said Nicolas Coulombe, a senior principal research scientist at Medtronic. “And as an added safety feature, we used a double balloon so there's always a vacuum between the two to help identify if there is a breach in pressure. It’s quite ingenious.” First licensed by Health Canada in 2011, and manufactured in Pointe Claire, Québec, the family of cryoballoon catheters are now producing safe, effective, efficient, and predictable outcomes for patients with AFib, as several large clinical studies show.
This testimonial is one individual’s experience and does not provide any indication, guide, warranty, or guarantee as to the response or experience other people may have using the device. Experiences can and do vary. Patients should talk to their doctor about their condition.
A recent Canadian study supports the use of cryoablation earlier in a patient's treatment rather than starting with antiarrhythmic drug therapy as an initial rhythm control strategy alone.5 Adopting the procedure as a first line of therapy for appropriate candidates could significantly improve their outcomes and reduce pressure on hospital resources.
After having the cryoablation procedure and staying overnight in the hospital, Tim returned home and resumed his workouts within two weeks. While he still has regular checkups with his physician, Tim is no longer sidelined by AFib. Not every person will receive the same results. AFib patients should talk to their doctor about treatment options. Tim is one of the million-plus patients who have been treated with Medtronic cryoablation devices.*
Most days you can find Tim delivering meals to local shelters with other volunteers for the nonprofit he founded, Hope for the Homeless. The group provides about 1,500 “hope” bags each month to the unhoused, containing first aid kits, personal hygiene items, clothing, snacks, and more. Volunteering, Tim says, is his way of repaying everyone who helped him on his journey to good health. “I reflect daily on the multitude of miracles that have led to me to today, and my procedure is at the top of the list. With my life like it is today, I know that I have a responsibility to try to make other people’s lives better, too.”
Important Safety Information: Procedure Information for Catheter Ablation: Complications, while infrequent, can occur during catheter ablation. Some of the risks include bleeding and bruising where the catheter was inserted, cough, shortness of breath, infection, temporary or permanent stroke, severe complications leading to hospitalization or potentially death. This treatment is not for everyone. Although many patients benefit from the use of this treatment, results may vary. Information on this site should not be used as a substitute for physician advice.
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