Gordy remembers when his heart palpitations started over 10 years ago. His heart would pound rapidly for a few beats or a few minutes, then stop by itself. “I could even feel the racing pulse in my fingertips,” described Gordy, age 74. “The episodes gradually became more frequent, lasted longer, and often woke me up at night.” Even though Gordy is a pathologist, a doctor specializing in diseases, it took a heart doctor friend to convince him to have some tests.
Gordy was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, which occurs when the upper chambers of the heart, or atria, fibrillate. This means that they beat very fast and irregularly and do not pump blood efficiently to the rest of the body. Atrial fibrillation can produce symptoms like the palpitations or thumping that Gordy felt. Other symptoms of atrial fibrillation include fatigue, shortness of breath, and weakness. And because blood isn’t pumped completely out of the atria, it may pool and clot. A piece of blood clot can leave the heart, travel to the brain, and cause a stroke.
At first, medication reduced Gordy’s symptoms of atrial fibrillation. But as the years progressed, the number and duration of his episodes increased, even after his doctor prescribed higher dosage levels of his medication. “My usually very active Dad was doing less of his favorite activities,” recalled Gordy’s daughter, Heidi. “He seemed moody and aggravated much of the time, but we just thought it was the new normal.”
When Gordy suffered a minor stroke, his family finally convinced him he needed more aggressive treatment for his atrial fibrillation. Gordy’s heart doctor talked to him about catheter ablation, and specifically the Arctic Front™ Cardiac Cryoablation Catheter, as a treatment for paroxysmal atrial fibrillation.
Catheter ablation is a minimally invasive procedure in which energy terminates (ablates) the abnormal electrical pathways in the heart tissue that are causing atrial fibrillation. The Arctic Front cryoablation catheter is a flexible thin tube that is maneuvered through a vessel into the left atrium. Once positioned in the heart, the balloon portion of the catheter is filled with a coolant which applies subzero temperatures to the abnormal pathways and restores normal electrical conduction.
“During the procedure, I was ‘put out’ so I don’t remember anything about that,” explained Gordy. “But I do know that at 10 o’clock that night, I was walking the halls. I immediately noticed that my heart symptoms were gone – no more pounding. And I felt truly happy for the first time in a long time.” Soon after, Gordy resumed his favorite activities including vegetable gardening, attending medical seminars, and singing at his church. “I lost 10 pounds because I became more active,” remarked Gordy. “And the atrial fibrillation no longer awakens me at night.” Heidi added, “I feel like I got my Dad back; it’s the best outcome we could have hoped for.”
This story reflects one person's experience. Not every person will receive the same results. Talk to your doctor about your treatment options.