Thomas Templin, Ph.D., is happy to report that his heart is “behaving beautifully.”
But that wasn’t always the case for the 68-year-old, who suffered with symptoms of atrial fibrillation, or Afib, for nearly a decade. His intermittent symptoms – including a racing heart, dizziness and sweating episodes – were an ongoing disruption to his life.
Afib is an irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia) that affects blood flow to the heart muscle and the rest of the body. It often causes palpitations in the chest and reduces the heart’s ability to pump efficiently. Other symptoms include weakness, fatigue and shortness of breath.
Afib can also lead to blood clots because of the sluggish movement of blood through the atria. Some patients experience no symptoms.
Risk factors for Afib include advanced age, obesity, sleep apnea, heart failure, high blood pressure and heart valve disease.
A step in the right direction
Templin had no known risk factors with the exception of his age. In fact, he seemed the picture of health until he began experiencing symptoms that came and went without warning. At first, they were controlled with medication, but it became clear that a different approach was needed as his symptoms became more frequent.
A new position at the University of Michigan’s School of Kinesiology as a professor of applied exercise science and associate dean for faculty and undergraduate affairs brought him to Ann Arbor and the U-M Frankel Cardiovascular Center in 2015.
It was here that he met Michael Shea, M.D., a general cardiologist who specializes in cardiovascular disease.
The plan was to monitor Templin until medication no longer effectively treated his symptoms. Although he would experience intermittent symptoms, his heart always went back to a regular rhythm, Templin says.
He recalls one particularly scary event in summer 2017, however, when he fainted while with his young grandson. This, he says, was a sure indication that more aggressive treatment was needed.
Shea recommended that Templin speak with electrophysiologist Rakesh Latchamsetty, M.D., about the possibility of a catheter ablation to treat his Afib.
How ablation can help
During catheter ablation, a series of thin, flexible wires known as catheters are put into a blood vessel through the groin or neck and guided into the heart. A machine then sends radiofrequency energy to the heart through one of the catheters to cauterize and disrupt the “short circuits” in the heart that are generating the Afib.
For some patients, Afib is controlled with a single procedure. Others may require a repeat ablation.
“Ablation can be an important step in treating certain patients with Afib, which is the most common form of arrhythmia in the country,” Latchamsetty says. “Certain patients may be effectively managed with medications, but others might require a procedure to decrease or potentially eliminate their Afib.
“Each patient’s condition manifests differently, so it’s important to consult with your doctor to see if ablation is right for you.”
A successful ablation may help a patient’s symptoms, improve heart function and decrease his or her reliance on medications, Latchamsetty says.
“We are also becoming increasingly aware that ablation should not be viewed as a stand-alone therapy and should be accompanied by continued efforts to decrease Afib recurrence,” he says. “These measures include proper diet, regular exercise and treatment of other conditions such as sleep apnea, hypertension or heart failure.”
The number of patients known to have Afib has grown because of a higher rate of contributing conditions such as obesity, sleep apnea and an older population, as well as improved screening tools and awareness of the condition, Latchamsetty says.
Back in rhythm
Immediately after the procedure, Templin knew his heart was in rhythm. “I felt great right away … and that hasn’t changed since,” he says.
Templin looks back on the years he suffered with Afib as an emotional time.
“The uncertainty of when you’ll have an Afib episode is something no one should have to live with. It’s very disruptive to your life,” he says.
“The ablation procedure changed my life. I have a normal existence and am relieved that it’s no longer on my mind. Since coming to Michigan in 2015, my heart care has been enhanced.”
Templin is also no longer on medications to control his Afib and is back to his regular cardio workouts, strength training and walking regimen.
“I stay active and am very careful about nutrition,” he says, noting that he’s enjoying life with his wife, Sarah, adult children and grandchildren.
He’s also thankful to his Michigan Medicine care team.
“Beyond their scientific and technical expertise, they really care about their patients.”