St. E's installs latest technology for erratic heartbeats

By William K. Alcorn


St. Elizabeth Health Center officials say the recently renovated cardiovascular lab features the most advanced technology available for treatment of erratic heartbeats.

Humility of Mary Health Partners, St. Elizabeth’s parent corporation, invested $650,000 in the renovation, including $450,000 for new equipment, said Donald E. Koenig Jr., executive vice president and chief operating officer.

Atrial fibrillation is the most common heart arrhythmia. Arrhythmia is when the heartbeat is too fast, too slow or irregular.

Atrial fibrillation occurs if rapid, disorganized electrical signals cause the heart’s two upper chambers, called the atria, to fibrillate or contract very fast and irregularly.

In AF, blood pools in the atria and isn’t pumped completely into the heart’s two lower chambers, called ventricles. As a result, the upper and lower chambers don’t work together and can increase the risk of stroke.

Catheter ablation is a medical procedure in which catheters (thin, flexible wires) are put into a blood vessel in the patient’s arm, groin (upper thigh), or neck and guided into the heart.

Energy is sent to the heart through one of the catheters and destroys small areas of heart tissue where abnormal heartbeats may cause an arrhythmia to start, according to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.

Catheter ablation provides better outcomes than anti-arrhythmic drug therapy, said Dr. Lee Gemma, a cardiac electrophysiologist who performed the first atrial fibrillation ablation in the region at St. Elizabeth in August.

“Anti-arrhythmic drug therapy has provided symptomatic relief in many patients with atrial fibrillation, but radio-frequency catheter ablation of atrial fibrillation has emerged as an alternative method of treatment,” Dr. Gemma said. “In head-to-head clinical trials of anti-arrhythmic drug therapy versus catheter ablation of atrial fibrillation, catheter ablation has been shown to be vastly superior.”

In general, it is a more durable, long-term solution, whereas medicines can lose their effectiveness over time.

While not all patients with atrial fibrillation are candidates for catheter ablation, making the option available will undoubtedly improve the outcomes and quality of life for many patients and their families, Dr. Gemma said.

For example, the procedure for patients of advanced age, depending on their medical conditions, might be prohibitively high risk, he said.

The length and complexity of the catheter-ablation procedure depends on which of the two general types of atrial fibrillation are involved. The procedure for paraoxysmal, the type that comes and goes, generally takes three to four hours; persistent, the type that is continuous and recurs despite medicine or shocks, can last four to six hours or more, Dr. Gemma said.

Because CA is now available at St. Elizabeth, there is no longer a need to travel to larger cities where the procedure has been available longer.

Dr. Gemma, a 1995 graduate of Poland Seminary High School, joined the HMHP Physician Associates/Diagnostic Cardiology Associates this summer. He received his undergraduate degree from Youngstown State University and his medical degree from Ohio State University.

He and his wife, the former Dana Sovick, a 1998 graduate of Cardinal Mooney High School, live in Poland and have an 8-week-old son, Nicholas.

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