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Patient Stories

Right Place, Right Time

Walker connects with St. Luke's for atrial fibrillation treatment

Marion "Butch" Mraz is a self-proclaimed worrywart. "I'm kind of a hypochondriac," he admits. But, deep down, he knew something was wrong this time. He checked his blood pressure, and the numbers weren't looking good. He checked again. Now, the blood pressure device wasn't even registering. Yes, something was definitely wrong.

"My internist at the time performed an EKG (electrocardiogram) and discovered I had atrial fibrillation," says Butch. An avid walker, Butch already knew the diagnosis was seemingly a foregone conclusion. Both his mother and brother had atrial fibrillation, and he selfdiagnosed himself through Internet research beforehand. "I can Google as well as anybody," says Butch. The next day, he took a walk at Chesterfield Mall.

While there, he spoke with clinicians from St. Luke's Hospital who were encouraging people to take a free online risk assessment called HeartAware. While talking with the staff, Butch learned about treatment options for atrial fibrillation at St. Luke's Hospital and made an appointment to see
Dr. Anthony Pearson .

Atrial fibrillation affects more than two million people in the United States and its symptoms are not always noticeable, which makes it a very dangerous condition. It occurs when the upper chambers of the heart (atria) are beating chaotically and ineffectively, resulting in a rapid and irregular heart rate. This causes ineffective heart performance and symptoms including palpitations, shortness of breath, fatigue and/or chest pain. Stroke is the most serious complication of atrial fibrillation and occurs when clots form in the dysfunctional left atrium. Certain factors including advanced age, hypertension, heart failure, diabetes and a prior stroke increase that risk.

"It's important to individualize the therapy for atrial fibrillation patients," says Dr. Pearson. "There are a wide variety of treatment options ranging from medical therapy to catheter-based ablation procedures to surgery. Prior to making recommendations for Butch, we assessed him for any heart disease with an echocardiogram and we carefully evaluated for any other diseases that would impact our management and his risk of stroke. We decided that an electrical cardioversion, which shocks the heart back to normal rhythm, made sense for him."

Once Butch knew the game plan, he put his full trust in Dr. Pearson. "I designed airplanes for a living at McDonnell Douglas and later at Boeing and I knew what I was doing," says Butch. "The same applies to Dr. Pearson - he does hearts for a living. I trusted him. I had complete faith in him."

"Butch had an electrical cardioversion as an outpatient procedure and it was successful in converting him back to the normal rhythm," says Dr. Pearson. "We selected a medication that was safe and effective for him and he has maintained the normal rhythm since the cardioversion."

"After the procedure, I came home and did what I always do," says Butch. "Other than an imprint on my chest, there were no signs of anything from the procedure. There was no pain whatsoever and no discomfort."

"I just got back from vacation - we took nine cruises last year," says Butch, noting that his life couldn't be better right now. "I still walk at Chesterfield Mall, Faust Park and Queeny Park. When we take cruises, I walk around the deck."

After going through the experience, Butch knows it is important to stop the second-guessing and have your fears checked out.

"For someone who may be experiencing symptoms of atrial fibrillation, or who may be at risk, I would tell them to have it looked at or treated," says Butch. "The most important thing to remember is you're at risk for having a stroke. It's not going to go away on its own. It won't correct itself."

Butch also knows he would recommend Dr. Pearson if someone needed to have their condition treated.

"I have full faith in Dr. Pearson. I even changed my primary care physician from another hospital to St. Luke's in addition to having Dr. Pearson as my cardiologist," he says. "When I see him, I usually have a list of things that I write down and he's more than willing to answer my list of questions. I'm extremely lucky to find someone like him as a doctor."

Although his worries have subsided, Butch still likes to Google - to find the best deals on cruises for him and his wife.

For more information about atrial fibrillation diagnosis and treatment at St. Luke's, please visit our Heart Services section.