Procedure to cure atrial fibrillation

- Imagine your heart beating so fast and out of control that you feel dizzy, short of breath and probably scared. Half a million people experience this sense of panic every year and are diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, the most common form of irregular heartbeat. 

Dr. Randall Wolf from Memorial Hermann Memorial City/UTHealth, has developed a device and procedure that is curing the problem. Patients are thrilled that it is also allowing them to toss out their prescription medications.

Malcom Peirson is one of those patients. He's an avid bicyclist who had to rethink his favorite pastime after a huge medical scare. 

"All of a sudden, my heart rate just took off while I was riding and it had never happened before," explains Peirson. His heart rate finally calmed down but then it happened again! 

"It was beating really fast, like 200 beats per minute," states Peirson. He was diagnosed with the most prevalent irregular heart problem, atrial fibrillation, simply known as A-fib. His heart surgeon, Dr. Wolf, explains what is happening during this potentially fatal medical crisis:  

The top two chambers aren't beating at all, they're just quivering.  The bottom two chambers are beating and that keeps us alive, but it's an erratic rhythm, it's chaotic. 

Dr. Wolf showed video to FOX 26 News of just how chaotic the heart looks when it is beating out of control, during A-fib. It is all over the place and appears as though it could jump out of the body.  

"You can understand why they don't feel good," says Dr. Wolf. "They're not happy, they don't have a good feeling of well being."

A-fib puts patients at risk of blood clots because it actually slows down the blood flow, which can lead to a stroke. 

"The first place it can go is to the brain, so atrial fibrillation is not just a heart disease, it's a brain disease," explains Dr. Wolf. This means even with most procedures, patients are on blood thinners for life. Peirson refused to accept that fate, because he was fearful of a bike crash. On blood thinners, doctors told him he probably wouldn't survive because of uncontrollable bleeding. 

"I can't over-emphasize how important it was for me to get off of blood thinners," says Peirson. He did get to stop taking them after undergoing the unique procedure developed by Dr. Randall Wolf.

How it came about is fascinating. Dr. Wolf says he was just sitting out by his pool having a conversation with one of his friends, who happens to be an electrical engineer. They were discussing A-fib and the possibility of actually cutting off electricity to part of the damaged heart. They brought their idea to life in Dr. Wolf's lab and now they say hundreds of patients have benefited from it.

Dr. Wolf now has an international reach, exporting the device to other countries, plus people from all over the world travel to Memorial Hermann for this procedure. Peirson sure is thrilled with the results and is back to his fifty-mile bike rides. 

"It wasn't easy but wasn't as hard as my knee procedures as far as recuperation and I'm back," says Peirson.

Dr. Wolf says patients' irregular heartbeats stop the instant they have the procedure. He implants a device in the chest to detect problems, just in case.

"We've found that A-fib patients are the most grateful patients I've ever taken care of," says Dr. Wolf with a smile. If they can feel like they don't have that time bomb and their heart's not out of rhythm, they are so happy and so grateful," smiles Dr. Wolf.

Peirson says he is thrilled to have regained control of his life and is thankful for such a huge advancement in medicine. Dr. Wolf says it's important to meet with your doctor quickly if you start experiencing an irregular heartbeat. Atrial fibrillation can also lead to chronic fatigue and heart failure.

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