Cardiac cryoballoon ablation helps patients with heart arrhythmia

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Thanks to an innovative new technology at Rouge Valley Health System (RVHS), commercial pilot Stephen Wilcox is flying high – literally.

Previously grounded by a heart arrhythmia, or irregular heartbeat, he is clear to fly once again.

“At night, I would lie on the pillow, and hear my odd heartbeat missing beats,” says the 54-year-old Durham resident. “After I would have an episode like this, my heart would pause for 7 to 8 seconds before finally going back to beating normally.”

Rouge Valley 2Wilcox was suffering from a type of arrhythmia called atrial fibrillation, or AF, which occurs when there is disorganized electrical activity in the top chambers of the heart, causing an irregular heart rhythm. This can lead to a feeling of racing heart rate, irregular or skipped heartbeats, fatigue/tiredness, shortness of breath, chest discomfort, dizziness, and even fainting.

Thanks to the new cryoballoon ablation therapy procedure offered through the Central East Regional Cardiac Care Program, patients like Wilcox can now get care closer to home. This procedure is specifically designed to treat AF, using freezing to treat the specific heart cells that are causing the abnormal beating. A balloon catheter is inserted into the affected heart chamber, and is inflated and filled with liquid nitrous oxide. This freezes the balloon, which is in contact with the targeted heart tissue. Often 3D-mapping technology will also be used to visualize the inside of the heart and precisely guide the balloon and ablation. The procedure is fast and effective, and can minimize radiation and anaesthesia.

This specialized service is performed at the regional cardiac care centre located at Rouge Valley Centenary (RVC) hospital campus in Scarborough, Ontario, which features three catheterization labs and a designated procedure room for arrhythmia treatments. This is where Stephen Wilcox was referred to and treated by RVHS cardiologist Dr. Derek Yung, who along with cardiologist Dr. Bhavanesh Makanjee, are amongst the most experienced operators with the cryoballoon in the province. Dr. Makanjee and Dr. Yung work in collaboration at the cardiac centre with Dr. Amir Janmohamed, cardiologist and manager of arrhythmia services at RVHS, and Dr. Ted Davies, cardiologist with The Scarborough Hospital.

“We want to get the message out — if you have symptoms like palpitations or fainting, talk to your doctor for a referral,” says Dr. Makanjee. “The cryoballoon ablation procedure is quick, safe, and effective.”

For Wilcox, the procedure was a perfect success, giving him relief when other therapies and treatments could not. “The procedure was a very positive experience for me. Within six months of the diagnosis, after having what felt like every test known to man, thanks to cryoballoon ablation the problem was solved. How does it get better than that?”

Patients with AF or who are experiencing issues of irregular heartbeat should discuss their condition with their family doctor, and can contact the arrhythmia management clinic at RVHS at 416-284-8131 ext. 5327 to learn more about arrhythmia services or if cryoballoon ablation therapy is right for them.

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