Jerry, who lives in Connecticut and applies his experience as an expert on complex litigation involving accounting firms, was first diagnosed with atrial fibrillation in 1994. He had an unsuccessful electrical shock treatment soon after his diagnosis, and started on a routine of using Coumadin to control his symptoms.
"I'd have episodes now and then, but overall things seemed to be under control," says Jerry. "When I would go to see my cardiologist, I'd ask about any treatment innovations, but he'd always tell me there were more downsides than positives."
'Shocked' into Action
Jerry continued his treatment until the early summer of 2007 when he found himself less inclined to engage in physical activity, and felt overly tired and weak. "I'm usually up for exercise and doing outdoor activities, but I was just too exhausted," he says.
Around the same time, Jerry read an article in The New York Times that talked about atrial fibrillation and treatment options. "That article shocked me into action," says Jerry. "It discussed some treatments my cardiologist hadn't talked with me about, but more importantly, it was the first time I realized that people with afib have an elevated risk of having a stroke. In all my years living with the condition, no one told me that. Right then, in my mind afib went from a minor annoyance to a potential killer, and I needed to take action."
Traveling the Country for Treatment
Jerry first contacted cardiologists at the Yale Medical Group, which was close to his New Haven home. He found that these doctors hadn't had much experience using surgical techniques to address atrial fibrillation.
"I was surprised that no one there had substantial experience with afib," says Jerry, "so I went ahead and contacted another group of doctors at Duke University." These doctors also weren't focused on treatments for atrial fibrillation. Jerry thought he had a long road ahead of him, but his luck soon turned.
A friend of his son in Columbus, Ohio, recommended a cardiologist at The Ohio State University Medical Center who had experience performing catheter ablation treatments. Jerry was already planning to go to a Buckeyes football game in September, and scheduled a consult the Friday before. At the consult, the doctor and his associates reviewed Jerry's case in detail and discussed Jerry’s treatment options.
A Surgical Option
After outlining different medical treatments, the cardiologist also suggested that an associate of his, Dr. John H. Sirak, a cardiothoracic surgeon at Ohio State's Ross Heart Hospital, was using a new procedure that might be appropriate for Jerry. Dr Sirak was also treating patients in the clinic that day and was immediately available to consult on the case. "Right then, he came in, introduced himself, and spent about 15 minutes looking over my chart," says Jerry.
Dr. Sirak wasted no time recommending a specialized surgery technique known as the thoracoscopic maze procedure. "He said to me, 'What's your schedule look like after the game?'"
We scheduled surgery for 5 a.m. Monday morning and he gave me his card and contact information in case I had second thoughts over the weekend. My wife and family flew in for the game, and my wife stayed behind to help me during recovery."
After His Procedure
Jerry was out of surgery by Monday afternoon and was released from the hospital Wednesday. A month after his procedure, he had to wear a heart monitor consistently for one week. After seeing the test results, Dr. Sirak allowed him to discontinue Coumadin completely. Jerry now takes only metoprolol (a selective beta receptor blocker) and a baby aspirin once per day.
"It's really amazing," he says, "I haven't had a single episode or chest discomfort since treatment. I would not hesitate to recommend Dr. Sirak and the maze surgery he performs.
This September, I'm heading back for another Buckeyes game and I'll be stopping in to see Dr. Sirak for a checkup. I think I've finally found a way to successfully treat my afib and minimize my risk of stroke."