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Tron's Heart Like 'New' After Innovative Cardiac Procedure

Three days before school started in August 2007, a drink of cold water sent Tron's heart rhythm haywire. It was the last straw.

"I had to miss the first few days of school," says the 26-year-old social studies teacher. "I was sick of going back and forth and trying this medicine and being testing. I wanted to be cured."

Five years earlier, Tron had begun experiencing arrhythmias that caused shortness of breath, lightheadedness and sweating. At first, the frightening episodes occurred about once a month. By the time paramedics arrived, they would be over.

After multiple episodes, Tron pestered his primary care physician for a referral to a cardiologist. The specialist gave him a heart monitor to wear. Although the monitor showed his heart was skipping beats, the doctor told him it was common in athletes and likely no cause for concern.

Help for Severe Irregular Heartbeat

One month later, a severe episode of rapid, irregular heartbeats landed Tron in the hospital, where he stayed for three nights. The cardiologist who examined him said he was fine. When he asked to see a different cardiologist, they sent in a psychiatrist.

After discharge, he returned to the first cardiologist, who prescribed anti-arrhythmic medications. The episodes became shorter and less frequent. Tron quit taking the medications after three months. "I thought it was cured," he says.

In the summer of 2007, the arrhythmias began to return with increasing frequency.

"I would work out, then relax, and they would start," he says. "They would last anywhere from 10 minutes to 10 hours."

He went to the ER six times and was put on a variety of medications. Finally, an electrical study performed by an electrophysiologist confirmed atrial fibrillation (a fib), the most common type of arrhythmia.

Tron was referred to cardiologist Raul Mitrani, MD, FACC, Director of Cardiac Electrophysiology at Memorial Regional Hospital, for a catheter ablation. In this procedure, radiofrequency waves delivered through a catheter to interrupt the faulty electrical circuits. Although the procedure has a high rate of success, it is not perfect, and more than one procedure is sometimes needed. Three months after his ablation, Tron experienced a fib again. A second ablation helped, but did not eliminate the problem entirely. His heart was skipping more often, but not as hard as before.

That's when the drink of cold water landed him in the hospital.

And that's when surgery became an option.

Minimally Invasive Cardiac Procedure

"Dr. Mitrani wanted me to meet with a Memorial cardiac surgeon to discuss the Cox-Maze procedure. I met with Dr. (Michael) Cortelli and could tell he knew his stuff. I told him I wanted to do the procedure soon so I could heal and move ahead," says Tron.

Dr. Cortelli, who is Chief of Adult Cardiac Surgery, felt Tron was an ideal candidate for a mini-Maze procedure, a minimally invasive operation in which an incision is made between the ribs and an instrument inserted into the heart. The surgeon uses the instrument to heat areas of the pulmonary vein and eliminate the overactive nerves.

The procedure was successful, and put Tron's heart health back on track.

Relieved and optimistic, Tron is positive about his future, and he has stopped worrying about missing class. Once active in wrestling and football, he has resumed working with weights and no longer fears exercise will bring on a frightening cardiac episode.

Tron says, "I feel like my heart is new again."


 

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