The Beat Goes On
Ablation therapy restored Bob Bjorvik's racing heart to a regular rhythm
Bob Bjorvik was just sitting in his hospital room, looking forward to going home following a minor surgical procedure at the University of Chicago Medicine, when a nurse rushed in asking if he was ok.
Bjorvik, who had a cardiac monitor, replied that he was fine. "But your heart is racing," the nurse said.
Bjorvik turned out to have atrial fibrillation, or AFib, the most common type of abnormal heart rhythm. Erratic electrical impulses that start in the upper chambers of the heart (atria) affect the normal electrical pathway through the rest of the heart. The heart beats too fast, resulting in lower blood flow and higher risk for clots, stroke or heart failure.
"I didn't know there was anything wrong with me," said Bjorvik, 60, executive administrator for the UChicago Medicine Department of Pathology and executive director of clinical laboratories. "I guess I became acclimated to it. The irregular beat wasn't constant and I didn't feel bad."
Bjorvik was referred to the University of Chicago Medicine Center for Arrhythmic Care, where he was diagnosed Bjorvik with atrial fibrillation and atrial flutter, a similar type of rapid electrical activity in the heart.
AFib typically affects people in their 60s and 70s, so Bjorvik, who was in his late 50s at the time, was a bit young. Symptoms may include racing heart, skipped heartbeats, being more tired than usual, shortness of breath during activities, and chest discomfort. Risk factors include lung disease and high blood pressure.
UChicago Medicine offers the full range of treatments to restore the heart to a normal rhythm, including medication, pacemakers, cardioversion — a short electrical shock to the chest that helps reset the heart to a normal rhythm — and ablation therapy.
The heart rhythm team has the expertise to manage the most complicated arrhythmias, and some of the most advanced tools and techniques available.
Bjorvik discussed treatment options with his physician and decided on radiofrequency catheter ablation, which has a 70 to 80 percent success rate in curing patients with paroxysmal atrial fibrillation, which means the heart is not in AFib all the time. During the procedure, a specially designed catheter is threaded into the heart through a vein in the groin. The catheter emits high-frequency radio waves to create lesions on the abnormal heart tissue that is causing the arrhythmia. The lesions are designed to block the pathway of erratic impulses of atrial fibrillation and restore normal heart rhythm. The procedure typically takes three to five hours and requires an overnight hospital stay.
During Bjorvik's procedure, two separate ablations were performed to treat the atrial fibrillation and atrial flutter.
Bjorvik said he felt no pain during the procedure and was back at work a few days later. "It was pretty amazing," said Bjorvik, who hasn't experienced arrhythmia symptoms since.
With inside knowledge as both patient and employee, Bjorvik said he likes the way medicine is practiced at UChicago Medicine. "They practice medicine in a collegial way," he said. "I get the benefit of different disciplines coming together because that's how cases are reviewed here. You're getting the benefit of expertise from the best."