Dan’s Story

danDan Woodring is goal-oriented, and for the past few years his mind has been focused on living into the second century of his life. At age 74, this goal seems attainable: he is active, sharp and indomitably positive. Yet his plans were nearly derailed in October 2013. During a routine checkup, doctors at West Chester Hospital discovered Dan had atrial flutter, a serious heart rhythm disorder. 

People can experience heart rhythm disorders for many reasons. In Dan’s case, the electrical system of the heart “short circuited” due to an abnormality that develops with age. In these cases, the heart rate may abruptly elevate, with the patient experiencing symptoms including palpitations, chest discomfort, difficulty breathing, dizziness and loss of consciousness. Although some episodes may stop on their own, medication is often required to control the heart rate and restore normal heart rhythm.

After months of episodic symptoms compounded by continuous, draining fatigue, Dan was eager to proceed when a new cardiac ablation procedure was proposed by cardiologists at West Chester Hospital.

The cardiologist inserts a special catheter into a vein in the leg, using X-rays to visualize the catheters and guide them into the heart, where radiofrequency energy burns a small trouble-causing area, restoring the heart’s electrical system to its normal functionality. The success rate of cardiac ablation exceeds 95 percent for many types of arrhythmias, and in most cases patients don’t require drug therapy following the procedure.

However, the procedure as traditionally performed has concerned doctors. Over time, the repeated use of X-rays exposes both physicians and patients to radiation.

“Radiation exposure is known to be harmful, especially when a patient is exposed to significant amounts,” explains Jitender Munjal, MD, electrophysiologist at West Chester Hospital. “These days, patients are receiving radiation exposure frequently from chest X-rays, CT scans, stress tests and many other tests. Because radiation damage is cumulative, the long-term concern is an increased cancer risk.”

Dan’s procedure incorporated a modified ablation procedure in which a 3D electro-anatomic non-radiation mapping system was used instead of X-rays. While most electrophysiologists continue to use a combination of this 3D technology and traditional radiation imaging, West Chester Hospital has taken extra precautions to eliminate any radiation exposure in nearly 90 percent of ablation procedures.

“3D mapping represents an astounding leap in technology. Patients with disabling symptoms can now have a 90-minute procedure that provides them with a potential cure of their problem without increasing their risk for other medical problems,” says Dr. Munjal.

Dan was amazed when he discovered a renewed energy level after the procedure. “I felt like a new man almost immediately. I assumed that I would be taking time off, and would therefore take a step backward. But I was able to do three to four times as much exercise as before.”

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