When Kay Kudlacek arrived for her appointment at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, she had already received treatment for atrial fibrillation, also known as afib. She’d tried medication, but her condition intensified; in response, her doctor suggested surgery. She was referred to an electrophysiologist to discuss her options. But Kay and her husband weren’t confident she was receiving the best care, so they began to research afib treatment online. When Kay mentioned her situation to a co-worker, he suggested she see Mitchell Faddis, MD, PhD, a Washington University cardiologist at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and the section chief of cardiac electrophysiology.
Before she developed afib, Kay says, “my husband and I led a full life; we were busy at work, active in our community and spending time together outdoors. I’d never even been in the hospital.” But in the fall of 2012, she noticed some irregular heartbeats—“just little blips here and there.” Over time, those blips developed into episodes of irregular rhythm that increased in length. Eventually, Kay says, she was experiencing afib that would last from four to six hours at a time, every day. Her quality of life began to diminish.
Dr. Faddis explains afib this way: “It’s the most common electrical problem people develop and is associated with a chaotic electrical rhythm in the heart’s top chambers. The heart rate is accelerated and irregular, and symptoms can be shortness of breath, lightheadedness or chest pain.”
“It was unnerving to feel my heart beat so irregularly,” Kay says. “And it was both physically and mentally draining. I found it hard to concentrate. Really, it was hard to do anything.”
Dr. Faddis says that he often sees patients with afib who haven’t been helped by traditional therapy. In fact, to address this common situation, he and colleagues worked to develop the very technology and techniques he was proposing to use to treat Kay. This evidence of expertise gave Kay the confidence she needed. “My husband and I decided that surgery with Dr. Faddis made sense. We were ready to go ahead.”
The procedure Dr. Faddis performed, called catheter ablation, uses electrical current to create spots of burned tissue around the heart’s problem areas. Over time, these spots become permanent scars that prevent afib’s erratic rhythms from spreading through the heart. “In 2002, Barnes-Jewish was one of the first centers in the world to use catheter ablation,” says Dr. Faddis. “Since then, we’ve become a high-volume center for this treatment. Our team has become quite skilled at performing a complex procedure and caring for patients afterward. We do it very effectively.”
Kay says the difference between life before and after surgery is like the difference between night and day. “I didn’t really realize how miserable I was, how awful I felt. But I had all the confidence in the world in Dr. Faddis, and now my afib is gone.”