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For many patients who suffer from the potentially deadly heartbeat irregularity known as atrial fibrillation, a high-tech treatment center at University Hospitals is an international destination.
There, about five times a week, UH cardiologist Mauricio Arruda, MD, settles in front of a video-game-like robotic console and grips a joystick. He sends four flexible metallic catheters the size of fishing line coursing through the veins of a wide-awake “A-fib” patient lying nearby, watching and guiding them through a high-definition digital map of blood vessels. Computer-controlled magnetic fields help Dr. Arruda steer the catheters’ tips until, finally, the most important catheter reaches its target: a miniature muscle adjacent to the heart, whose errant electrical impulses are the cause of a heartbeat gone haywire.
At Dr. Arruda’s command, the catheter zaps the offending muscle with heat in a tissue-killing process called ablation. The patient, wide awake, feels nothing. Yet the benevolent damage has been done: Within weeks, the resulting scar tissue will insulate the heart from the muscle’s scrambled signals. The A-fib fades away.
UH Surgeon-in-Chief Jeffrey Ponsky, MD, Chairman of the Department of Surgery at UH Case Medical Center and Oliver H. Payne Professor and Chairman, Department of Surgery, Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, recently watched Dr. Arruda perform the minimally invasive procedure on a friend. “It’s the coolest thing I’ve seen in therapeutics in years,” Dr. Ponsky effuses.
About 2.5 million Americans suffer A-fib. It causes exhaustion, shortness of breath and chest pain – and it’s a leading cause of stroke and heart failure.
Dr. Arruda is Director of the Atrial Fibrillation Center at the renowned UH Harrington Heart & Vascular Institute; Director of its Electrophysiology Center; and an Associate Professor of Medicine at the School of Medicine. Few other places in the U.S. offer this advanced treatment, and Dr. Arruda’s patients come from across the country and overseas. His skill is such that NBC’s “Today” show once had him perform the procedure on live TV.
“For many A-fib patients, medicines just don’t work,” he says. “If not for this technique, they would face the unpleasant choice between open-heart surgery or high risk of stroke. So we’re improving lives – and saving them.”