After a career teaching business and computer classes at community colleges, Kathie O’Brien was eager to retire in 2014. She was moving back to Corvallis, where she and her husband met as students at Oregon State University.
Then just before they were set to leave Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, O’Brien was rushed to the hospital with heart attack symptoms. A battery of tests were performed, ruling out a heart attack, and she was told she was having a panic attack.
When she moved to Corvallis, O’Brien started working as an education consultant, which requires frequent travel. But she didn’t have any energy and often was out of breath.
“It started getting more frequent at a higher level and more impactful in my life,” she said.
Finally, she asked her doctor if she could see a specialist. O’Brien was referred to Sridhar Vijayasekaran, MD, a cardiologist with Samaritan Heart & Vascular Institute in Corvallis. On the day of her appointment, she experienced the same symptoms that had affected her for years.
“I walked in and said, ‘I’m not feeling good at all,’” O’Brien recalled.
The staffed performed an EKG and told her that she needed to go to the Emergency Department right away. At the hospital, O’Brien had several more episodes documenting an arrhythmia and she was finally diagnosed with atrial fibrillation – an irregular and often rapid heart rate that commonly causes poor blood flow to the body, and a heart flutter. She was referred to Jeff Hsing, MD, also with Samaritan Heart & Vascular Institute, who specializes in electrophysiology, an area of medicine focusing on abnormalities in the heart’s electrical impulses.
Atrial fibrillation causes the heart’s two upper chambers to beat out of sync with the lower chambers, which people often experience as weakness or shortness of breath. At first, O’Brien took medicine to control her symptoms. There was some improvement, but the heart conditions continued to interfere with her life.
So Hsing recommended a minimally invasive procedure called an ablation, which has been offered by the Heart Rhythm Center at Samaritan Heart & Vascular Institute since 2013. During the procedure, Hsing accesses the heart through veins, and radiofrequency energy is used to destroy the tissue causing the arrhythmia.
It’s a complex procedure that carries risk, but 95 percent of patients who’ve had the procedure have fewer symptoms and 70 percent report total relief.
“For a patient whose quality of life has been significantly impacted, it can be a good option,” Hsing said.
After her procedure in June, O’Brien was able to resume activities right away. She said atrial fibrillation is no longer controlling her life.
“I have had no symptoms,” she said. “I’m golfing and traveling again. It really is amazing.”
From diagnosis to treatment to follow-up care, the Heart Rhythm Center at the Samaritan Heart & Vascular Institute in Corvallis provides advanced electrophysiology therapy for heart rhythm problems. For more information, visit samhealth.org/SHVI.