Before retiring to spend half the year in Florida, Carl M., who goes by Mitch, of North Attleboro first had to do something about progressively worsening Atrial Fibrillation (AF). He was taking five or six arrhythmia drugs daily and suffered from chronic sluggishness and sleepiness. He had reached a point in which he would come home from his demanding job every day and take a nap, a behavior his wife became increasingly concerned about.
AF is an abnormal rhythm of the upper chambers of the heart causing electrical impulses traveling to the bottom part of the heart to create an irregular and/or fast heart rhythm. Symptoms can include:
• Shortness of breath
• Chest discomfort
• Swelling in the legs
• Fluid accumulation in the lungs
For Mitch, his AF was actively managed for several years. He was prescribed various medications, which he took until they no longer worked, and had two cardiac ablations each of which helped his symptoms for about a year-and-a-half-to-two years each time.
Then, in April 2016, after being evaluated for a third cardiac ablation, his cardiologist Dr. Waqar Cheema in Wrentham, Massachusetts referred him to St. Elizabeth’s cardiac electrophysiologist John Wylie, MD, FACC and cardiac surgeon Stanley Tam, MD, FACS, FACC to discuss a new procedure they were offering for patients with difficult-to-treat AF. The procedure, known as the Convergent Procedure, is a revolutionary treatment for patients with difficult-to-treat AF in which a cardiac surgeon and an electrophysiologist work together for a more permanent solution to manage persistent AF.
“Dr. Cheema told me it was time to go see the boys in Boston,” said Mitch. “The medication no longer worked and a third ablation didn’t look promising for long-term results. Dr. Cheema knew of a relatively new procedure that he felt I was a perfect candidate for.”
According to Dr. Wylie, the Convergent Approach is a powerful option for many people in whom AF is difficult to control. The procedure starts with a cardiac surgeon first performing a minimally invasive laparoscopic ablation across the back wall of the heart via a small incision in the abdomen. Then the next day, a cardiac electrophysiologist completes the procedure and checks for other arrhythmias by threading an ablation catheter through a patient’s femoral vein in the groin to the inside of the heart. Radio wave energy is sent through the tip of the catheter to create scar tissue at specific areas of the atrium where AF originates and completes a thorough ablation set in the heart. Electrophysiology diagnostics are then used to confirm the abnormal electrical signals were interrupted and that no other arrhythmias remain that need to be treated. Most patients treated with the Convergent Approach are able to go home within two to four days, resume a more active lifestyle, and may be able to stop taking medication to treat AF.
“Dr. Tam and Dr. Wylie were very thorough,” said Mitch. “Even my wife, who was nervous on my behalf, felt confident after we reviewed the procedure.”
Mitch spent a total of four days in the hospital and, besides the recovery from anesthesia, he stated he had no pain and, if not for the bandage, wouldn’t have known he even had the procedure. “I can’t believe how good I felt,” said Mitch. “I was pain free and started to feel my sluggishness and sleepiness quickly fade. When I walked my knees and back would hurt and now they don’t. I think I have better blood flow and just overall feel better.”
Mitch said the team of Dr. Wylie and Dr. Tam made appointments easy to schedule, worked collaboratively and generally took good care of him. He recalls, “one of the things I remember is that the procedure was scheduled for July 5, 2016. On the afternoon of July 4th, Dr. Tam called me at home to make sure I was feeling okay, answer any questions I had and generally reassure me before the next morning. I cannot speak highly enough of all of them; Dr. Cheema, Dr. Tam and Dr. Wylie.”
“This is the best I have felt in five year,” said Mitch. “I don’t know how bad I was feeling until after the Convergent procedure.”
Now, while enjoying retirement, Mitch is spending time with this wife, looking forward to meeting a new granddaughter who was born this past winter and walking to help address additional weight loss that he wants to achieve. “I’m hoping that I can lose enough weight that I no longer need the blood pressure medication,” said Mitch. “And, I’m hoping that at my check-up with Dr. Wylie in April 2017, I can also stop taking the blood thinner.”