In Santa Monica, first US patients undergo new quick-zap procedure to treat irregular heartbeat

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SANTA MONICA, Calif. (KABC) — Atrial fibrillation is one of the fastest growing heart disorders in the U.S. Doctors can treat it successfully by burning and scarring faulty heart tissue, but cardiac ablation isn’t suited for everyone. Now, a newly approved procedure that can zap the problem in seconds.

79-year-old Rob Sears became one of the first in the nation to undergo a groundbreaking procedure to treat an irregular heartbeat or atrial fibrillation. It sidelined this avid hiker for nearly 8 years.

“You can’t breathe or get enough oxygen. It kind of resigns you to the couch,” he said.

Patients with afib are also more susceptible to stroke.

At his age, doctors said the conventional way to treat with cardiac ablation was not Sears’ best option. It requires general anesthesia and a month or two to fully heal.

“The challenge has always been when you destroy something using heat or freezing, you can cause collateral damage because the energy doesn’t stop at the tissue. It continues like when you heat a pot on a stove, the water boils. But the handle also gets hot,” said Cardiac Electrophysiologist Dr. Shephal Doshi at the Sandra and Vin Scully Heart Rhythm Center at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica. He said he can achieve the same goal of destroying faulty heart tissue with a non-thermal, high amplitude electrical field called pulsed field ablation or PFA. Each pulse lasts 2.7 seconds.

“We do multiple applications in different areas. But they’re quick and they’re fast, and they cover a broad range of tissue. Not just one little spot like we used to do,” said Doshi.

In January, the FDA approved PFA for the treatment of afib. Doshi said instead of three hours, the procedure performed through a catheter can be completed in minutes. Sears went home shortly after.

“I was amazed just to wake up feeling very clear headed,” Sears said.

“They seem to have less or no symptoms of chest, pain, or shortness of breath,” said Doshi.

Since it’s easier on the body, Doshi says it can be offered to more patients who weren’t candidates for cardiac ablation.

“It really opens up the space for anyone who has atrial fibrillation where it affects their quality of life,” Doshi said.

The day after his procedure, Sears headed out on a road trip and now looks forward to getting back on the trails.

“I think it’s something that will benefit many more people besides me,” he said.

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