Avera Medical Minute: New A-Fib procedure is keeping hearts in rhythm

SHERBURN, MN (KSFY) - A procedure for those who struggle with Atrial fibrillation is bringing hope and long-term results. Meet a man who was one of the first in South Dakota to receive convergent procedure, and how his life has changed.

Phil Shafer received convergent procedure for A-fib

Phil Schafer and his family live on a little slice of heaven, their farm near Sherburn, Minnesota. While the younger generation grows the crops, Phil still has the livestock. "I have 22 head of cattle, about 40 sheep, some goats. Got work to do," said Schafer.

About two years ago, Phil felt increasingly tired, and it was getting worse. "I'd take the grandkids to the zoo and I was going from bench to bench," said Schafer. "I was thinking man, I got old in a hurry."

His doctors ran tests and found answers. "The EKG showed my heart in A-fib and it kind of made sense to me as to why the last two years I'd been getting weaker and weaker," said Schafer.

Medications were the first attempt to keep his heart into rhythm. When that didn't work, they did procedures to shock his heart. Each time his heart would only stay in rhythm for about thirty hours.

A referral to Avera Heart Hospital brought new hope with Convergent procedure. Cardiovascular Surgeon Doctor Steven Feldhaus of North Central Heart describes the first of the two-part procedure done to his heart. "The idea is to ablate or destroy those nerves, so you can get rid of the Atrial fibrillation triggers," said Dr. Feldhaus. "We use radio frequency type of power. It's very effective, probably the most common type of surgical tool used for Atrial fibrillation at this point."

There's a six week healing time between the two procedures, according to Avera Cardiac Electrophysiologist Dr. Jonathon Adams. "The surgeon cauterizes the tissue from the outside in, and we let the tissue, swelling go away then we bring them back to the cath lab about six weeks later and then the electrophysiologist, that would be me, we would do it from the inside out," said Doctor Adams.

"I am so thankful for this surgery, and for what they did. It's a miracle," said Shafer.

This new procedure causes intentional scarring completely through the heart muscle, rather than partial scarring in previous types of treatments. Like other patients, Phil needed to take it easy for about a week after the last procedure and then was ready to fully embrace life.

"After that, we let them do whatever they want to do. We tell them to go on and exercise and enjoy their life," said Doctor Adams.

Symptoms of A-fib include fatigue and intolerance to exercise. Many patients are surprised at the amount of energy they get back, after getting their heart back into rhythm long term.