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Walter Kerwin, MD, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Los Angeles, CA

A-Fib Patient Story #29

What It Feels Like to Have a PVI at the Un. of Pennsylvania

by Mark, 2008

My name is Mark, and the following is my story regarding A-Fib.  In 2004 I started getting occasional irregular heartbeats when I was running, and my doctors weren’t sure of the origin of the problem.  I was in my mid 40’s and in very good health.  I took a series of tests such as stress tests which showed my heart to be in excellent shape.

I was going through a stressful period in my life, so I assumed that these episodes were from anxiety. Unfortunately, I started to get irregular heart beats over the next 3 years and had 5 different A-Fib episodes where I needed to go to the emergency room.  Thankfully they lasted only 7-8 hours, so no cardioversion was required.

During this time period I tried beta blockers and rythmol to address the arrhythmia.  While these drugs were helpful, they really affected the quality of my life.  Beta blockers made me tired and were detrimental to my sleep.  Rythmol worked well for a while, but I soon needed to increase the dosage and was affected by fatigue.

I was starting to feel very down as my active life was becoming very sedentary. Even climbing stairs was an anxiety provoking event.

Choosing a PVI and the Un. of Pennsylvania

I researched various options particularly Steve’s website ( and spoke with my cardiologist.  I decided that I was going to have a Cardiac (PVI) ablation.  I did a tremendous amount of research of the medical literature and felt the benefits of an ablation outweighed the risks.

My next challenge was finding the right hospital to go to in the New York/Philadelphia metropolitan area.   In the end, it was an easy choice for me as I was so impressed with the University of Pennsylvania…..not only their success statistics but their people, the simplicity of their induction process, etc.  I went over to the hospital and met with Dr. Callans and his team. They discussed the procedure with me in great detail.  I was incredibly impressed by Dr. Callans not only because of  his knowledge and experience but also his empathy and honesty.

The PVI Procedure

I waited 6 long months and finally arrived at the Un.  of PA for the ablation procedure (April 2, 2008).  When I arrived, I met everyone who was going to be participating in the ablation.  They were so professional and supportive which helped my nerves considerably.  It’s very scary to think that you will be lying flat during this procedure for 6 hours and remain fairly still….then stay still another 6 hours after until your blood thickens.  The hardest part for me psychologically was that, because the procedure was 6 hours, a urinary catheter is needed….not painful, but….well I think you get the idea…
The pain/relaxation medicines were wonderful, so I was relaxed fairly early. (Mark was lightly sedated rather than given general anesthesia which usually renders a patient completely unconscious.)

Then they put the catheters inside my groin… on the left side and the other in the right. I didn’t find that painful, nor the Novocain-like medicine sting.  I felt awake during the whole event, although my doctors told me that I was sleeping at certain times. At other times I was more lucid… was almost like hearing voices but having your eyes closed.

There were only two events where I was a little anxious.

1. They speed up your heart to trigger electric impulses….you feel your heart moving. That was a little scary, but the staff talked me through it each time. And the acceleration of the beats was for very short time periods.
2. Also occasionally you feel the burns….sort of a mild discomfort. They will increase the medication if you ask.

The whole procedure took about 5 hours.  I was very impressed with the team.  Afterwards, lying still was fine. The harder part was stopping the bleeding from the catheters, but eventually that happened.

After the PVI

The next day, I was very sore from the catheters in my groin and had black and blue marks over parts of my lower extremities. My chest was also a little sore, and I was tired and grumpy.  You come off a high from the procedure, and then you start to realize that now you need to recover which makes you feel uncomfortable.

The great news was that my heart was in perfect rhythm, and I felt so much better than when I entered the hospital.
Over my 3 day stay, the nursing staff was excellent.  However, I would make the point that you don’t just walk out from an ablation and immediately resume your life (despite the articles and brochures). It’s a major procedure. You’re sore, you are taking coumadin, you have many blood tests. I had a little nausea and was still taking rythmol, etc. So, my view is that you need to be psychologically ready to accept that you will feel better over time. Your heart needs time to heal.T

hat said, I’m so happy that I did this procedure. Today I took a walk, and what a joy to feel energetic and hopeful again. The team at the Un. of PA was wonderful. I would wholeheartedly recommend them for anyone considering an ablation.

E-mail: mlj324(at)

Update: July 30, 2008

Mark provided this update: “The ablation was a total success.  After about 2 to 3 months of having a few irregular beats, heart beats regularly. Able to run and really do any physical activity. Very fortunate and very happy. Have had no complications.”

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