New Treatment for AFib Makes a Difference

As a single mother raising six children, Deborah Adelung figured her on-and-off rapid heartbeat was due to stress and the fast pace at which she moved to keep on top of her kids and her housekeeping job in a senior living community. “When I would lie down, I could hear my heart pounding in my ears and feel it in my ribcage,” she says. “I started to be severely out of breath and tired all the time but I just figured that was because I was working so hard.”

But several years later, after she was hospitalized with a serious case of bronchitis, doctors discovered that the real cause of her rapid heartbeat was atrial fibrillation (AFib), a common heart rhythm disorder that causes the two chambers of the heart to beat out of sync. She was referred to Dr. Glenn Meininger,  an electophysiologist at MedStar Heart & Vascular Institute at MedStar Union Memorial Hospital. Electrophysiology is a branch of cardiology that specializes in the electrical activities of the heart resulting in irregular heartbeats.

Dr. Meininger tried several different medications and repeated attempts at electrical cardioversion to treat her and restore a normal heart rhythm and rate. Unfortunately, those treatments were not effective for her persistent atrial fibrillation so he recommended that she undergo a new, minimally invasive procedure known as Hybrid Maze.

“MedStar Heart & Vascular Institute is the first in the area to offer a new hybrid ablation procedure that provides more extensive rhythm management for those patients where traditional medication or ablation strategies aren’t successful,” Dr. Meininger explains. ”By focusing on broader areas of the heart that trigger atrial fibrillation, the results can be a more effective treatment in even the most complicated difficult cases.”

How Does Hybrid Maze Work?

Dr. Meininger and MedStar Union Memorial cardiac surgeon Dipin Gupta, MD, performed the minimally invasive, two-stage procedure on Adelung. First, Dr. Gupta used three very small incisions in the abdomen to reach the heart and make scar lines using radiofrequency energy from the outside of the heart around the pulmonary veins. These lines disrupt the irregular electrical impulses in the heart that cause atrial fibrillation.

In the second phase of treatment, which was performed a month later, Dr. Meininger used a catheter inserted through the groin to perform endocardial cryoablation on the inside of the heart. This freezes scars into the heart tissue in the areas where there are no surgical scars on the outside of the heart from the first procedure, which increases the ability to block irregular electrical impulses.

There are several patient benefits to this minimally invasive procedure:

  • Patients are only in the hospital for two to three days
  • The procedure is performed on a beating heart so no heart-lung machine is needed
  • Recovery is quicker and less painful than the open surgical version of this treatment.

“This is a very powerful treatment with a much higher success rate for people with persistent atrial fibrillation,” explains Dr. Gupta. “It allows us to restore normal rhythm and limit the symptoms and serious risks that can be caused by atrial fibrillation, including stroke and heart failure.”

“After the procedure, I felt really good,” Adelung says. “I was able to do more without getting tired or out of breath. Before I couldn’t even play with my grandchildren but now I can chase them around. I’m so thankful to Dr. Meininger and Dr. Gupta. My quality of life is back!”