BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - A medical procedure new to Baton Rouge proves that it's not always a bad thing to be cold-hearted. This treatment for atrial fibrillation uses extreme cold to make the common cardiac condition disappear.
"I've always been a runner, a cyclist. I swim. I'm nuts," Roma DiRienzo said. "And I had noticed there would be times that I just didn't feel good and thought maybe I'm just getting old."
However, it was during a recent stress test that the former nurse knew something was seriously wrong. She was experiencing intermittent episodes of atrial fibrillation, or A-Fib. It happens when the heart falls out of sync and beats irregularly, often much faster than normal. A-Fib causes shortness of breath, fatigue and lightheadedness. It can eventually lead to blood clots and an increased risk of heart attack and stroke.
After initially being prescribed several medications to manage the condition, DiRienzo was referred to cardiologist Andrew Smith, MD, FACC at Louisiana Cardiology Associates within Our Lady of the Lake. It's the only practice in Baton Rouge offering a procedure that's proving more effective than medication.
"We're really trying to isolate the pulmonary veins, which are the veins that drain blood from the lungs back into the heart, and that's where most A-Fib originates," Dr. Smith explained. "And we've found that if you can isolate those veins, then you can decrease or eliminate the amount of A-Fib some patients are having."
He's doing it through cryoablation, a minimally invasive process that freezes the damaged heart tissue that causes the irregular beats. A catheter is inserted in the groin and fed up the veins into the heart. Using precise imaging tools, doctors find the exact trouble spot and deploy a small balloon, which is then filled with nitrous oxide cooled to -50 degrees Celsius. Once the problem cells are destroyed, the balloon is warmed back up and removed. The procedure has been offered at OLOL for about a year.
"We felt like now with the newest generation of balloons, it's really ready for primetime, and over the last year we've been really, really pleased. The outcomes I would say have been better than sort of what we expected," Dr. Smith said.
"I've had no other incidents, so I feel like I've been given a second chance," DiRienzo said three weeks after her cryoablation surgery.
Recovery time is only 24 hours, and the procedure is relatively pain-free.
DiRienzo encourages others to monitor their pulse and watch for symptoms that accompany an irregular heartbeat.
"It is not normal to be lightheaded. It is not normal to be short of breath, and I don't mean that you're climbing steps and being short of breath. It's the combination of those things," she said.
Contact Louisiana Cardiology Associates at (225) 767-3900.