Cured after 30 years in A-Fib by Dr. Marrouche
by Michele Straube, 2010, updates in 2011
I’ll be 55 next month. I was diagnosed with A-Fib over 30 years ago, but don’t really know how long I’d had it as I was mostly asymptomatic unless exercising during air pollution episodes (“red alert” days) and when sick. I was in A-Fib 24/7 all that time. We have no idea why I went into A-Fib.
Hit or Miss with Meds and Cardiologists
My experience with cardiologists was hit and miss. Early on I was told that they had never seen someone so young with A-Fib (at the time, I was in my mid-20’s), and some told me the best they could do was medicate me so I could walk from the bed to the window and back. I changed doctors. Others wanted to give me all kinds of meds, which I researched and refused to take. I had one cardioversion which took for a few days; I didn’t try another. In the end, I took digoxin for years (which did nothing much except minimal rate control) and then calcium channel blockers for about 10 years (which actually controlled my rate so that I could exercise moderately). I refused to take Coumadin/warfarin (blood thinners) and took aspirin instead.
Deciding to have an Ablation
This fall, I decided to have an ablation. I did a trek in Peru this summer and it about killed me. I got so mad at my heart and at my cardiologist (who basically spent five minutes with me once a year and said my life was as good as it was going to get). I decided at the top of the highest pass in Peru to change cardiologists when I got back home.
In researching doctors in my area, I learned that ablation procedures have greatly advanced in the past few years. I also knew that my risk of stroke was increasing with age and with the length of time I was in A-Fib (meaning I’d probably have to switch to Coumadin in the next 5 years or so). So, I went to the new doctor (Dr. Marrouche). After doing the cardiac MRI, he felt I was a good candidate for an ablation. Given my age and my risks with the history of A-Fib, I was willing to take this step for the possibility of no more meds in the future and an improved quality of life.
Ablation by Dr. Marrouche
The ablation was done by Dr. Nassir Marrouche, University of Utah Cardiovascular Center, Salt Lake City. I’m no doctor, so don’t hold me to what was ablated — this is how I describe it in simpleton lay language: pulmonary vein isolation, then all areas of fibrosis were scarred. Dr. Marrouche does a cardiac MRI to identify all areas of fibrosis to determine whether you are a good candidate for ablation (i.e., too much fibrosis = not so good candidate).
I am now 9 days post-ablation and still in NSR. I’ve started walking in my neighborhood and am adding distance and speed with every day. So far, I consider this procedure to be a miracle (and am keeping my fingers crossed).
Update Sept. 29, 2010: A-Fib Free
I am now 9 months post-ablation and still (knock on wood) in NSR. Most importantly, my quality of life is SO IMPROVED. I can ride a bike again for the first time in 20 years or so (going downhill is so much fun, going uphill is still work). I’m training for a local A-Fib Awareness 5K; I can already jog about half the distance (I hadn’t run for over 5 years before the ablation). I’m taking Zumba and adult ballet lessons and loving every sore muscle. The other major quality of life improvement is no more dizziness—I can easily stand listening to my daughter’s School of Rock gigs for an hour or more (we used to always bring a chair for me to be slightly dizzy in); I can climb a flight of stairs without wheezing; I don’t collapse on the couch at 6 pm; etc. The ablation miracle continues …
Update January 1, 2011
I am now more than one year a-fib free and still feeling terrific. I have revived a dream to walk the Via Alpina (approx. 1500 miles up and over the Alps, walking through 8 countries, www.via-alpina.org). Starting with 2-3 weeks in summer 2011 and finishing up 3-4 summers later, my husband and I plan to “Cross the Heart of the Alps for Atrial Fibrillation Awareness.” I’ll give everyone the link to my blog when it’s ready.
Update May 11, 2011
AFib-free for 1.5 years. Blog for Into the Heart of the Alps for Atrial Fibrillation Awareness: http://bit.ly/hHPG2f. “We’re leaving for the first 22 days of our trek this Sunday — still so much to do, but so excited. Just walking uphill fast is a miracle, but now I can do that and talk at the same time, or carry a 20-lb backpack and make it up without wheezing or dizziness. Life is so good!”