YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – On Tuesday, St. Elizabeth Health Center unveiled its newly renovated cardiovascular lab.
It's home to one of the most advanced technologies used to treat the heart arrhythmia found in two million Americans, atrial fibrillation.
The procedure radiofrequency catheter ablation has been shown to work better than drug therapy. Dr. Lee Gemma, a Cardiac Electrophysiologist, performed the first procedure at St. Elizabeth.
"It is a relatively new procedure. It is catching on internationally, but it has really only been performed on a widespread basis for five to 10 years. We just started doing these in the Youngstown area, but in the past patients had to leave to go to other cities to have this procedure done," Dr. Gemma said.
In order to perform the procedure, doctors thread about five catheters from the groin to the heart. They then use x-ray and 3D heart mapping to electrically isolate the source of the atrial fibrillation.
Radiofrequency energy is used to create scars around the source, which creates a barrier so the atrial fibrillation cannot spread out from the veins.
Hubbard resident Diana Kralik was one of the first patients to undergo the procedure. "I would go back tomorrow because I felt so much better. I was off the medication for the first time in probably 10 years and it just made all the difference in the world how I felt. I can wake up in the morning now and don't feel my heart beating, which you kind of did with the medication," Kralik said.
As it stands now, 30percent of atrial fibrillation ablation patients require two procedures. Although as science evolves Dr. Gemma believes atrial fibrillation ablations will become even more sophisticated.
"Most of the time people are willing to take those odds, but it is an imperfect science at this point. It is evolving. We are getting smarter, so to speak, as time goes by. As of now, our success rate are about 70 percent," Dr. Gemma said.
The procedure is fairly lengthy. Kralik's procedure took about four hours. Dr. Gemma has spent more than 11 hours in surgery doing the procedure. Recovery time is fairly quick though. Most patients go home the next day.