Rich Rocha had frequent bouts with a racing heart rate. He also lacked stamina and was out of breath when running or playing sports. This pattern continued two to three times a week for more than 10 years. But every time he went to the doctor, his EKG turned up normal.
“My heart would start beating extra fast and hard, and I’d feel a rush of adrenaline,” Rocha says, noting such episodes would last a few seconds to a minute. “I also noticed that when I ran or played basketball, I’d get winded and just have to push through it.”
Then, last summer, he went to Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital’s Emergency Department with a foot infection. His rapid heart rate -- about 150 beats per minute -- reappeared, and an EKG finally revealed Rocha had atrial flutter, a common heart abnormality where the organ beats faster than usual.
His cardiologist, Dr. Shahe Garabedian, also discovered that Rocha suffered from another heart condition, atrial fibrillation -- or A-Fib -- causing the heart to beat irregularly. Facing an increased risk of heart failure or stroke if both heart conditions were left untreated, he began taking antiarrhythmic drugs – a fix, but not a solution.
He soon learned he was a good candidate for flutter ablation, which completely cures atrial flutter. “Dr. Garabedian said flutter ablation had a high success rate – 98 percent – and was low risk,” says Rocha, a mortgage underwriter who lives in Saugus. “I thought, ‘Why continue with medications if it could be fixed?’ I wanted to get it done as quickly as I could.”
Last December, he underwent the one-hour, minimally invasive procedure where scar tissue is created within the right upper chamber of the heart to block the electrical signals that cause a fluttering heartbeat.
Aided by heart mapping and navigational technologies, Dr. Shervin Sadrpour, a cardiac electrophysiologist and medical director of Electrophysiology Services at Henry Mayo, guided wires and catheters through Rocha’s leg vein and into his heart. The catheters transmit electrical energy to the target area, damaging the tissue and resulting in scarring to block electrical signals to the heart.
“By understanding the mechanism of an abnormal rhythm and the appropriate use of advanced technology, we can deliver better medical care,” Dr. Sadrpour says, noting electrophysiology, a relatively new branch of cardiology, has revolutionized treatment of some cardiac conditions.
“Some procedures that required open heart surgery in the past are now done more effectively by making small incisions in the groin area. Recovery times are much quicker, too,” he adds.
Rocha stayed overnight at Henry Mayo for observation following the procedure. “The care was great,” he says, adding “the nurses made sure I was comfortable, especially when I had to lie flat for the first six hours.”
After a few weeks of taking it easy, he resumed his full physical activities, including playing basketball for three hours. “I don’t get tired nearly as fast as I used to – I feel good,” says Rocha, who is now only taking medication for atrial fibrillation.
He added that if anyone has a similar heart condition, “I would recommend the flutter ablation procedure – it’s low risk and the rewards are great. I feel much better; I only wish I could’ve had it done sooner.”
Henry Mayo offers a full range of electrophysiology services as part of its comprehensive cardiovascular care program. For more information, go to henrymayo.com/electrophysiology.