More than 2.5 Million Americans are living with atrial fibrillation. For most people this condition is just a nuisance and not entirely life threatening, but that doesn't mean it should be ignored.
To many people former Augustana football coach Jim Heinitz has a heart of gold, and also navy blue. But in reality, Jim's ticker wasn't always performing like it should.
"I was actually just sitting here right at my desk and all of a sudden my heart started racing and I didn't really think anything of it for a little while but then about an hour later I0 thought I better go get in to get it checked." Said Heinitz.
So Jim checked in to the Avera Heart Hospital and was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation (A-fib) by Dr. Riyad Mohama.
"Atrial Fibrillation is an irregular rhythm in the top chamber of the heart. This is a commonly seen kind of arrhythmia it's probably one of the most common arrhythmias that we see in our cardiology practice." Said Dr. Mohama, an electrophysiologist with the North Central Heart Institute.
Think of it as a short circuit in your heart which causes your heart to race or make you feel extremely fatigued. For the better part of two years Jim lived and worked with the occasional episode until he finally decided to get it fixed.
"It was becoming more frequent and so I started exploring if there is other options and that's when I heard about ablation surgery which I had in June and I'm happy to say for three months anyway I've been in rhythm which is good." Said Heinitz.
Catheter ablation is the most common way to correct A-fib. In this procedure, Dr. Mohama uses focused radio waves to burn or singe abnormal tissue on the upper chambers of the heart. These areas are malfunctioning and causing the heart to beat out of sync.
"The idea here is the try to isolate those trigger spot that otherwise can cause Atrial Fibrillation to spread to that top chamber of the heart." Said Dr. Mohama.
Each red "dot" is an ablation that essentially closes the faulty circuits until the heart beats correctly. A typical ablation surgery will take around three hours. Jim Heinitz is anything but typical, his surgery took seven and a half hours. But when he woke up he was in the best hands possible.
"The doctor of anesthesiology was one of my former offense of lineman and the doctor of pharmacy when I got out was one of my former defensive backs so the nurses were laughing and saying man you know everyone!" Said Heinitz.
Atrial Fibrillation by itself is not life-threatening but it can be a precursor to a stroke so quick action is extremely important. That starts with knowing the signs.
"Hypertension would be one, sleep apnea ore people who snore and have apneic episodes during the night they're at increased risk for atrial fibrillation." Said Dr. Mohama.
Stress can also play a huge role, whether it's the stress of being a CEO or the stress of the sidelines, it makes no difference.
"I remember back in my coaching days I just thought I was mad at the referees but maybe it was my heart being a little out of rhythm." Said Heinitz.
Jim says his diagnosis of A-fib definitely was a wake up call and for those who are living with A-fib, coach says it's time to see your doctor.
"The biggest thing is don't let it go unchecked go and find out exactly what it might be. We have some great services here in Sioux falls and the ability to take care of it is certainly there." Said Heinitz.
September is Atrial Fibrillation awareness month and if you or someone you know has been experiencing palpitations or a racing heartbeat do your part to encourage them to get it checked. For more information just call 877-AT-AVERA.