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Not Missing a Beat with Atrial Fibrillation

October 15, 2018

Ralph Wise never knew he had a heart issue. It wasn't until he came down with the flu while living in Ohio that his primary care physician suggested checking his heart.

"Both of my parents died from heart disease," Wise says. "So my doctor was watchful."

As it turned out, Wise's test results revealed atrial fibrillation – a heart rhythm disorder that occurs when electrical impulses in the heart are irregular. The condition, often referred to as AFib, is the most common type of abnormal heart rhythm. Although AFib can be symptomless, as in Wise's case, it can also cause heart palpitations, chest pain and fainting. Untreated atrial fibrillation can lead to advanced heart failure and stroke.

Wise was prescribed medication to control his condition, but it came with severe side effects and required constant blood tests. When he moved to Kansas City from Ohio, Wise had a chance encounter on a plane with a pediatric oncologist who gave him valuable advice.

"She told me I needed to have a cardiovascular procedure because the medication I was prescribed was crazy," says Wise.

Seeking solutions

In 2006, Ralph had his first cardioversion procedure. Cardioversion involves giving a low-energy shock to the heart to restore normal heart rhythm. While some patients experience a complete recovery after treatment, others need multiple cardioversion procedures throughout their lifetimes.

For 2 years, Wise enjoyed a normal life free from complications. Then one day, at a Rotary meeting in Russell, Kansas, where he had relocated, Wise felt a strange sensation in his chest.

"Everyone feels their heart flutter from time to time," Wise says. "But this was different. This kept going."

Wise drove himself to the hospital and had his second cardioversion procedure that afternoon. He hoped that this treatment would be his last. But 1 year later, while sleeping, Wise awoke in the middle of the night to the familiar fluttering sensation he had felt at the Rotary meeting.

"I thought to myself, 'This isn't working. I've got to do something different,'" he says.

Taking a different approach

Wise's cardiologist referred him to The University of Kansas Health System. Wise was evaluated and physicians recommended an ablation procedure to remove the damaged tissue that was causing the arrhythmia. The surgery requires only a small incision in the groin area, through which a catheter is inserted and threaded to the heart. Radiofrequency energy is then used to remove the targeted tissue and restore a normal heart rate. Once complete, Wise would not require medication or additional surgeries.

"I felt confident that it would go well," says Wise. "My doctor referred me knowing that I had a special situation. He knew I would receive better care at The University of Kansas Health System. It's nice to know he was really looking out for me."

Wise underwent atrial fibrillation ablation. He was sedated for the procedure, but didn't require general anesthesia, and was in and out within 24 hours.

My doctor referred me knowing that I had a special situation. He knew I would receive better care at The University of Kansas Health System. It's nice to know he was really looking out for me. – Ralph Wise

Crossing the finish line

Today, Wise is in the best health of his life. He has had no heart issues since his ablation procedure and he is off medication. Wise also adopted a paleo-style diet, started exercising and has lost 30 pounds.

"My wife thinks I'm having a midlife crisis," Wise jokes. "I think it's a little more than that."

Wise's new interest in good health also prompted him to celebrate his 55th birthday a little differently: by running his first 5K. He trained for the event using an exercise app called "Couch to 5K." The 9-week program helped him slowly build endurance with 30 minutes of walking and jogging 3 days a week. By the 8th week, he could run for 30 minutes straight. By the 9th week, he was race-ready.

Wise completed the Friends of the Buckeye Lake Library 5K Walk/Run and finished at his personal best time. He ranked 6th in his age category and placed 52nd out of approximately 120 racers. He says he plans to run 2 more 5K races this year.

"I've felt great since my procedure and the 5K is just more evidence of that," Wise says.

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