January 3rd, 2018

From Treatment to Cure: Overcoming Afib

One morning at work, 48-year-old Julie Williams’ heart rate soared from a normal 60 beats per minute to 170 beats. Her accelerated heart beat continued for nearly four hours and the longer it lasted the more intensely fatigued she became.

Although Julie had suffered from SVT (what many describe as “heart flutters”) for more than 20 years, she had never experienced anything that frightening. She called her primary care physician, Dr. Renee Fischer, who referred her to the Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital Device Clinic for a Holter Monitor. Results from two weeks of constantly monitoring Julie’s heart led Dr. Fischer to refer her to cardiologist Dr. William Freedman.

The first plan of treatment for Julie was medication management. However, the medication proved ineffective in regulating her heart rate. In the meantime, Julie didn’t have the energy or strength to do many of her normal activities and hadn’t gardened for weeks. Dr. Freedman referred Julie to Dr. John Zakaib. Having just moved his practice from the Cleveland Clinic to Charlottesville, Dr. Zakaib was Martha Jefferson’s newest electrophysiology (EP) cardiologist. He has advanced training in the treatment of atrial fibrillation.

After additional testing, Dr. Zakaib offered Julie the answer to her heart problem: She could take various medications for the rest of her life to try and control it – or he could cure it with a procedure called ablation.

“I was nervous but my family offered me a lot of support,” said Julie. “We decided that if this procedure could cure me, I had to have it done.”

On October 10, 2008, Julie underwent treatment in the Sentara Martha Jefferson EP procedural lab. With Julie relaxed under the mild sedation of Versed and Fentanyl, Dr. Zakaib conducted diagnostic tests to determine the cause of her irregular heart rhythms. He pinpointed a focal location in the electrical system of Julie’s heart that caused her arrhythmia. He performed ablation, effectively stopping the harmful impulses and terminating the arrhythmia.

“I don’t have enough kind words to say about Dr. Zakaib and the staff,” said Julie. “I was emotional going into the surgery, but they kept me as comfortable as possible. One nurse even held my hand throughout the entire procedure. I’d refer anyone having problems like mine to Dr. Zakaib. I’m so glad he’s at Martha Jefferson.”

This spring Julie will, for the first time, return to her garden completely free of her arrhythmia.