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Young At Heart – Finally

Rikki Crowthers
Rikki Crowthers, pictured with her daughter, Caileigh, was sidelined by atrial fibrillation that caused her heart to beat very rapidly. After an ablation procedure, her heart is beating normally and she has the energy to enjoy time with her children.

As kids, many of us were told, “Act your age.” But for most of the last decade, acting her age was only a dream for Trenton resident Rikki Crowthers. Atrial fibrillation, an abnormality of the heart rhythm that can result in blood clots and stroke, caused this young mom to severely limit her activities.

“I wasn’t able to do things with my kids. I had to move slowly, I felt like an old woman,” remembers Rikki, now 33 years old. “Plus, life included a lot of hospitalizations.”

Rikki’s heart troubles started in 2002 when she was pregnant with her second child. Her heartbeat once registered 275 beats a minute. Since then, she has been in and out of emergency rooms and was hospitalized so frequently that in 2009 she spent a total of three months as an inpatient. Nothing worked — not procedures, not medications.

Today, Rikki is active, feels refreshed, does things with her kids, and atrial fibrillation is a thing of the past. What made the dramatic change in her life? Her visit to the Electrophysiology (EP) Lab at Atrium Medical Center. This full-service EP Lab diagnoses and treats electrical problems of the heart in ways not possible even a few years ago. It gave Rikki back her youth.

Making Heartbeats Regular Again

The human heart beats 100,000 times a day, adjusting its rate to accommodate a person’s activity level. But sometimes the heart doesn’t maintain the rhythm it should. When a heartbeat is too fast, too slow or irregular, it’s called an arrhythmia. The most common type of cardiac arrhythmia is what Rikki had — atrial fibrillation, a condition that affects almost 2.2 million U.S. adults.

“Electrical irregularities in the heart can indicate a serious cardiac condition,” points out Sandeep Gupta, MD, medical director of Cardiology at Atrium and a fellowship-trained cardiologist specializing in electrophysiology. “With the imaging technology in our EP Lab, we can study the heart’s electrical activity, locate the precise source of abnormal heart rhythms and determine the most appropriate treatment.”

Dr. Gupta says that for years, medical science has been able to implant pacemakers and cardioverter defibrillators to manage arrhythmias. But the view of the heart that the EP Lab delivers widens the opportunity for another solution — an ablation — to be performed more often and with greater precision.

Cardiac ablation is a nonsurgical procedure that involves cauterizing the small area of the heart that is causing irregular heart rhythms. Scarring the malfunctioning section allows electrical currents to run through the heart smoothly. In up to 90 percent of cases, ablation completely cures heart rhythm problems, restores normal heart function and eliminates the need for open-heart surgery or long-term drug therapies.

“Ablations have been performed for more than 20 years,” Dr. Gupta reports. “But now with the three-dimensional map of the patient’s heart that we get in the EP Lab, we can precisely pinpoint where ablation is needed.”

Precision Procedure

Gupta HS
Sandeep Gupta, MD Cardiologist, Medical Director of Cardiology

The EP Lab at Atrium Medical Center is specifically designed to perform complex ablation procedures. Dr. Gupta uses a color heart mapping system with GPS technology to visualize the patient’s heart without X-rays and to guide catheters to the right locations.

An ablation in early fall 2011 was the solution for Rikki. “Not only was it an easy procedure, I had a quick recovery,” she recalls. “The ablation was done on Friday and I was shopping on Saturday.”

Best of all, Rikki now enjoys a quality of life and activity that she hadn’t had for years. She has even lost 30 of the 80 pounds she gained from heart medicine she took.

“I felt like an 80-year old,” she remembers all too well. “Now I feel and act 33 — and that’s a great age to be.”

Heart Conditions 101

In simplest terms, the human heart may be thought of as containing two systems — plumbing and electrical.

  • The plumbing system of your heart is made up of blood vessels and the blood flowing through them. Problems occur in the heart when blood vessels become narrow or blocked or heart valves malfunction.
  • How quickly the blood flows depends on how fast your heart pumps — and that is determined by the electrical activity of your heart. When a heartbeat is too fast, too slow or irregular, it’s called an arrhythmia.

Arrhythmia Warning Signs

  • heart "racing"
  • weakness, fatigue
  • shortness of breath
  • dizziness or feeling light-headed
  • fainting
  • chest discomfort or pain

For more information on heart services offered at Atrium, visit us online.