A New Lease on Life Thanks to Cryoablation
After years of medications and treatments that didn’t work, Dorothy “Dot” Smith made an appointment with Dr. James McPike of Memorial’s Heart and Vascular Center of Excellence to discuss her debilitating atrial fibrillation (Afib).
All about Afib
Afib is an irregular heart rhythm that affects the upper chambers of the heart. Symptoms of Afib can include heart palpitations such as thumping or pounding in the chest, heaviness in the chest, lightheadedness, fatigue, and shortness of breath. When patients start to experience recurring palpitations or prolonged discomfort over a period of days or weeks, it’s time to call your doctor. Smith first sought treatment for her Afib after the birth of her second child.
Smith had Afib symptoms starting in her late teens, and the condition grew worse as she got older.
“In my 30s, my Afib was constantly speaking in my life,” Smith said. “I went on numerous drugs, and it seemed I formed a pattern of 18 months to maybe three years on a drug; then it was ambulance drives, and emergency rooms, and new prescriptions.” She continued on this path until she exhausted all the prescriptions available at the time.
By the time Smith was in her 40s, she had undergone two cardiac ablations within months of each other. After the first procedure, she explained, “My heart felt really different than it had before. It was a different type of arrhythmia, and I came downstairs and said to my husband, ‘My heart is sick. It is very, very sick. I don’t know how else to explain this. But I’ve never been this sick before in my heart.’”
After the second ablation, she actually felt worse. And once again, doctors were prescribing medications to attempt to treat her Afib.
“So from my [early] 40s to my late 40s, that was my life,” Smith said. “And you don’t have much of a life when you have constant episodes of atrial fib. For me, sleeping was difficult, because when I got into deep sleep, my Afib would kick in. So rest became difficult on some levels, and I didn’t have any life left.”
“You don’t pace your life out in decades, you pace your life out in the milestones that are closest to what’s coming up,” she continued. “Children graduating from high school. And then when that happens you think, you know that’s crazy, I have to think beyond this.”
It was while she was seeing a physical therapist for an unrelated injury that Smith heard about Dr. McPike. Based on what the physical therapist said, Smith scheduled an appointment to see Dr. McPike.
She brought her husband along to the first visit with Dr. McPike. “We knew right away he knew what he was talking about. He knew his stuff,” she said. “He explained that he would go in and cryogenically freeze the nodes, or the areas, of the heart that were problematic and that this should correct my atrial fibrillation and allow me to live drug free. So that was a no-brainer.”
“Dot had a lot of symptoms from Afib,” Dr. McPike recalled. “It was really affecting her a lot. She was not happy; her heart was misbehaving very frequently. It did not respond to medications, and the case for her was pretty straightforward. She came in; we did the ablation, and she’s really done great since, which is typical from my perspective. But to see anyone individually, it’s just wonderful to see how their life is changed so much for the better. She’s such a great person; we’re happy she’s feeling so much better.”
How CryoAblation works
“Ablation is just to get rid of tissue that you don’t want,” explained Dr. McPike. “Trying to get rid of abnormal circuits. That can be done by getting the tissue hot or by getting it cold. Cryo just means you’re eradicating tissue with cold. CryoAblation is the technique to isolate the pulmonary veins where the bad tissue is from the rest of the heart—the atrium. The technique uses a balloon, which gets very cold, and that is in contact with the part of the heart, which you’re isolating.”
During the CryoAblation procedure, the cryoballon Dr. McPike uses inflates to come in contact with the wall of the isolated vein and create a line of scar tissue. This prevents the vein, which is causing the Afib symptoms, from coming in contact with the atrium. Dr. McPike performs this step on all four veins that enter the left atrium.
Dr. McPike began performing the CryoAblation procedure using the Medtronic Arctic Front® Cardiac Cryo-Ablation Catheter in early 2013. This system was approved for the treatment of Afib by the FDA in 2010.
Smith’s new life
For Smith, the CryoAblation procedure was a success. Since the procedure, her life has changed for the better.
“I have a life; I truly have a life,” she said. “I am active in my community.
I am active with my not-for-profit. I am Operation Shoebox director for the VFW. I visit my granddaughter. I have a beautiful daughter who works up in Chicago, and I regularly go up. I’m a proud mother of a U of I graduate. I have a son living in South Carolina, married with two stepchildren, and we visit with them. I have a life. I didn’t have one before.”
“And I always tell people, ‘Dr. McPike, through the grace of God, he gave me my life back,’” Smith said. “He really has the ability to change your life, and that doesn’t come along every day. I’m so grateful.”