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Calgary heart patient is first in Western Canada to benefit from newly approved ablation technology | News

Calgary heart patient is first in Western Canada to benefit from newly approved ablation technology | News
Calgary heart patient is first in Western Canada to benefit from newly approved ablation technology | News

Kicking back on the couch after a hard day at work is something many of us do routinely. In 2018, Calgary-based cement truck driver Travis Umphrey was doing just that when he suddenly felt his heart racing and “flopping around like a fish.”

Alarmed, Umphrey, now 55, sought medical help and was referred to a cardiologist. After participating in a sleep study, he was diagnosed with sleep apnea and atrial fibrillation (AF), the most common heart rhythm disorder that affects up to two percent of Canadians.

Umphrey was advised to use a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine, a device used during sleep to keep the airways open so patients can get the oxygen they need. The therapy controlled both his sleep apnea and AF for several years.

But in the last few years, Umphrey began experiencing the familiar palpitations again and realized his AF had returned.

“I had little energy and sometimes I felt dizzy, but the worst part was that it affected my quality of life,” he says.

Umphrey sought help again and was scheduled to undergo heart surgery on May 27, a common treatment for AF that involves strategically scarring the heart tissue via a catheter inserted into a vein, usually in the groin.

What was not so unusual was that Umphrey found out that he would be the first patient in Western Canada to be treated with a new ablation technology: pulsed field ablation (PFA).

Historically, AF ablation in Calgary involved heating the tissue around the pulmonary veins with radiofrequency energy to interrupt the electrical pathways that cause the condition. PFA replaces this technology by using high-amplitude pulsed electrical fields delivered through a catheter, instead of heat, to damage the tissue.

Dr. Russell Quinn, MD, a cardiologist and clinical associate professor in the Department of Cardiac Sciences at the Cumming School of Medicine, led the team during Umphrey’s ablation.

He says PFA has been used in tens of thousands of patients in Europe and is now approved in Canada and the US.

“This new technology is much more efficient,” he says. “Ultimately, it will allow us to complete an AF ablation in about an hour, instead of the three hours it takes using current radiofrequency ablation technology.”

Umphrey was able to go home the same day as the surgery and is doing well.

“I have recovered well and have not had any atrial fibrillation since then,” he says.

When Umphrey was told he would be the first in Western Canada to benefit from PFA, he was surprised but unconcerned.

“I laughed when Dr. Quinn told me,” he says. “I never worried, I felt like I was in really good hands.”

According to Quinn, PFA has several advantages. In addition to being more efficient, it can be performed under conscious sedation, meaning the patient is awake, rather than general anesthesia, and can result in a less painful recovery. Another advantage is that it requires many of the same techniques and skills as the traditional method, so doctors will likely be able to adopt the technology fairly quickly.

Calgary’s AF ablation team consists of six physicians, who perform up to three ablations per day and treat about 300 people per year. With the new technology, each of them can increase their cases to four or five per day. PFA is only available to first-time ablation patients; however, returning patients can be re-ablated using the older technology.

“Atrial fibrillation is relatively common, so there is a large volume of patients to whom we can offer ablation,” Quinn said. “This new technology has the potential to treat them earlier and improve their quality of life.”