Hope for the Heart
How St. Luke’s helped one woman treat her atrial fibrillation with an ablation
It was a warm spring day when Amy Addy suddenly fainted in the driveway of her Duluth home. A few moments later, she regained consciousness and glanced at her Apple watch. Her heart rate had hit 200 beats per minute, and she knew exactly what was wrong: she was having an atrial fibrillation (A-fib) episode. She hadn’t had one that severe in eight years.
A-fib is a condition where the heart has episodes of beating irregularly. A minor episode can leave the person feeling tired, light-headed or nauseous, but a major one can cause loss of consciousness or lead to heart failure. These episodes can last anywhere from a few hours to a few days before the heart corrects itself and can be reduced by taking medications. However, a particularly severe episode, like Amy experienced, may not correct itself. In these cases, the heart rhythm can be fixed with a low-energy electric shock called a cardioversion.
Amy arrived at the emergency department and they confirmed that she was having a severe A-fib episode. However, she was unable to have a cardioversion. For this procedure to be an option, the person needs to have taken a blood thinner for at least four weeks. Because Amy had been experiencing minor episodes, she was not on a blood thinner. All she could do was return home and wait for the episode to end.
Considering an ablation
“I stayed in A-fib for 10 days straight,” said Amy. “It the longest one I had been through.” Shortly after, she met with St. Luke’s electrophysiologist Dr. Yan Dong.
“Taking medications for A-fib isn’t for everyone,” said Dr. Dong. “If someone is experiencing side effects or the medications aren’t working, having an ablation is another option.” An ablation is a minimally invasive procedure where small scars are created in the heart. These block the abnormal electrical signals that cause A-fib.
Even though Amy had been through surgeries before, she was unsure and worried about having an ablation. “Dr. Dong told me that there was an 80% success rate,” said Amy. “I was scared we would go through the whole process and it wouldn’t work.”
Minimally invasive heart surgery
A few days after seeing Dr. Dong, Amy had a second major A-fib episode. “It lasted 10 days again,” said Amy. “That really settled it for me. After that, I knew I needed to have an ablation.”
Amy talked to Dr. Dong again and scheduled her procedure. “The way Dr. Dong handles herself really put me at ease,” said Amy. “She’s so calm and concise. She made me feel heard and answered all my questions.”
On the day of Amy’s procedure, she went to St. Luke’s at 5:30 am. “An ablation can last anywhere from two to six hours. A particularly complicated case can take longer,” said Dr. Dong. “But, because it’s minimally invasive, it’s very low-risk and many people are able to go home the same day.”
Amy woke up over five hours later to the news that everything had gone according to plan. Her ablation had been a success. “I was in tears,” said Amy. “It gave me so much hope.”
Heart care at St. Luke’s
Since Amy’s procedure, she’s been able to lead a normal life again. She now has the stamina she needs to keep up with her two small children and enjoy her hobbies. While Amy is still taking a few medications as she heals, she hopes she will eventually be medication-free.
After her experience, Amy is grateful for how Dr. Dong cared for her. “She’s a huge asset to our community – especially as a woman caring for other women,” said Amy. “I feel like she gave me my life back.”
Dr. Dong believes that the care she gives wouldn’t be possible without the support of her team at St. Luke’s. “My team goes out of their way to put patients at ease,” she said. “It makes all the difference.”
To learn more about heart and vascular care at St. Luke’s, visit slhduluth.com/heart
This article was published in the Jan-Feb 2022 issue of the Woman Today.