This article is presented in partnership with MU Health Care.

Gene Beal is an avid hunter, with five deer heads mounted on his living room walls to prove it. His wife, Julie, has requested a ceasefire on her outdoorsman husband’s contributions to interior decoration.

When Beal isn’t hunting bucks, you can find him tending to his expertly fertilized and meticulously weeded gardens. Beal, 54, was so healthy he had barely interacted with a doctor in his first five decades, but one night three years ago he awoke with his heart racing. Beal was suffering from atrial fibrillation, also known as AFib, a rapid and irregular heartbeat originating in the upper chambers of the heart.

“He was extremely distressed by these episodes of atrial fibrillation during which he would get palpitations, get short of breath, get extremely weak,” said MU Health Care’s Sandeep Gautam, MD, a cardiologist who specializes in the heart’s electrical system.

Gautam said patients diagnosed with AFib receive an electrocardiogram and wear an outpatient heart monitor for one to 30 days. Sometimes a shock to the heart—called a cardioversion—in conjunction with anti-arrhythmic medication is enough to return the heart to its normal rhythm. Most patients are also prescribed medication to guard against strokes. Gautam suggested early on that Beal was a good candidate for an ablation.

In this procedure, a catheter with a radio frequency tip is inserted into the femoral vein in the groin and guided to the heart. The tip of the catheter is gently placed against the parts of the heart that are sending abnormal electrical signals and blocks those signals, allowing the heart to return to a normal rhythm.

MU Health Care’s electrophysiologists now can use 3-D heart mapping, allowing the catheter to be guided to the heart using little or no fluoroscopy, which limits or eliminates a patient’s exposure to radiation. After trying multiple medications that only temporarily worked, Beal had the procedure done in September 2017.

Gautam said 60 to 70 percent of patients who have ablations are able to get off their AFib medications. That has been the case with Beal, who now wishes he had the procedure done sooner.

“Since I got the ablation, I’ve never felt the flutter, never felt the AFib,” Beal said. “It’s been wonderful.”

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