Atrial fibrillation (Afib) had Judith Johnson of Mount Olive Township in and out of the hospital for eight years. In addition, the side-effects of the various medications she took to balance her heart's rhythm and blood pressure were making her sick.
"I pushed myself to do what I had to, but on most days I did not feel well," recalled Ms. Johnson, age 66. "My heart would race and I had chills and fever from the medications." As the years wore on, the Afib episodes became more frequent and her symptoms more severe.
Those difficult years are a distant memory since she underwent a robotic-assisted catheter ablation at the Atrial Fibrillation Center at Saint Barnabas Medical Center in 2009 that cured her Afib. Today she is enjoying the retirement she hoped for -- planning to take a cruise and working out at the gym four times a week.
Ms. Johnson was among more than 2.2 million Americans affected by atrial fibrillation. September is National Atrial Fibrillation Awareness Month and a time to raise awareness about heart failure and stroke that can result if Afib is left untreated. The most common heart rhythm disorder, Afib occurs when stray electrical signals disrupt the body's natural heart rhythm. It often produces a rapid and irregular heart beat that can cause fatigue, lightheadedness, shortness of breath and other symptoms.
When Ms. Johnson underwent one of the first robotic catheter ablations performed at the Atrial Fibrillation Center, electrophysiologist David Dobesh, MD, combined a sophisticated cardiac navigation system to map the electrical signal in her heart and the state-of-the-art robotic catheter for the precise placement of radiofrequency energy that eliminated the abnormal areas which were causing erratic electrical signals and giving rise to her Afib.
"The robotic catheter allows eletrophysiologists to more easily and rapidly access portions of the heart which were challenging with previous catheter technology," explained Dr. Dobesh. "Ms. Johnson's case is a good example of its potential to dramatically improve the procedure and shorten procedure time." Without the advantage of robotic technology, ablation is performed using a manual catheter technique that requires complex catheter manipulations with inadequate assurance that the tip of the catheter responds as desired while inside the patient's heart.
"Just as robotic surgery has revolutionized minimally invasive surgery in the last decade, the robotic catheter has the potential to improve outcomes while reducing risks for patients with Afib," said Marc Roelke, MD, Director of Electrophysiology at Saint Barnabas Medical Center and Newark Beth Israel Medical Center. "As more electrophysiologists become proficient in this highly advanced technique, our opportunity increases to eliminate persistent arrhythmias for people whose disease does not respond to other treatments."
After the procedure, Ms. Johnson was able to replace the blood thinner and other medications she had been prescribed for many years with a daily, low dose of aspirin. Her cardiologist and the staff at the Atrial Fibrillation Center continue to monitor her heart regularly.
"I feel a wonderful calm," said Ms. Johnson. "My heart and body are not racing anymore and my afib has not come back."
Some heart centers claim a high cure rate for Afib, but fail to follow-up with patients after procedures are completed. The Atrial Fibrillation Center, however, routinely measures the long-term success of treatment by following-up with patients at regular intervals. It is the only center in the region whose team includes an atrial fibrillation nurse practitioner dedicated to tracking the overall success of therapies for people with Afib. This growing database provides invaluable insight in to the most effective treatments for Afib, based on long-term results.
The public is invited to learn more about Afib and see the robotic catheter demonstrated on September 29 from 10 am to 2 pm in the Lobby of Saint Barnabas Medical Center located at 94 Old Short Hills Road, Livingston. For more information about the Saint Barnabas Atrial Fibrillation Center or the robotic catheter system, please call 1-866-549-AFIB or 1-866-549-2342.