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From Our Patients


New Technology At McLaren Has College Student Upbeat About Her Future


Caitlin V. is excited about the future, she turned 21 November 12, is planning to go to graduate school for Women's Studies, and confident her supraventricular tachycardia (SVT) is a thing of the past. SVT is an abnormal, fast heartbeat that occurs suddenly, triggered in the atria, the upper chambers of the heart. Caitlin, now a junior at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, was in sixth grade when she first started to experience these excessive heart palpitations. At first, the rapid heart beat came on when Caitlin would exercise or physically exert herself and episodes would last an hour or more.


"It was scary, especially the first time it ever happened to me," states Caitlin. "It took a couple of years to diagnose my condition, then I was given some medicine to take after an episode. Unfortunately, as I got older I began having episodes even without exercising; simply bending over or being too hot could trigger one.


"All through high school and her first two years of college, her condition was monitored and midine changed as needed. However, Caitlin enjoys being active and began noticing that exercising would always trigger her heart to race, which was beginning to keep her from doing things she loved. On top of that, her medicine was no longer controlling her condition. The thought of not being able to be active and being on medicine for the rest of her life inspired Caitlin to pursue another treatment option.


This year, Caitlin went to see Abdul Alawwa, M.D., F.A.C.C., an electrophysiologist. Dr. Alawwa is a cardiologist who specializes in the treatment of irregular heartbeats. Caitlin went through a series of tests, including a stress test and wearing a monitor that allowed her to push a button if she was having an "episode." Caitlin did experience a racing heart and the monitor recorded her SVT in action. All of the information gathered allowed Dr. Alawwa to determine Caitlin was a good candidate for a radio frequency ablation using three-dimensional mapping, technology only available in the region at McLaren.


The procedure involves inserting catheters into veins on both sides of the groin through "paper cut" size incisions that are fed up into the heart. On one side are the diagnostic catheters used to locate the tissue causing the irregular heartbeat. On the other side are ablation catheters used to destroy the bad tissue. This is where the 3-D mapping comes in to play, using the NAVX system, which shows precisely the places in the heart where the abnormal tissue is that needs to be cauterized. This is done using radio-frequency energy delivered through the ablation catheter. The small area of heart tissue is heated by the energy creating a tiny scar. As a result, this tissue is no longer capable of conducting or sustaining the irregular heartbeat.


"I was a little apprehensive about having the procedure, but nothing else was going to make my condition go away and I did not want to take medication for the rest of my life," states Caitlin.


July 29, 2008 she had her ablation and was exercising just three days later! This procedure has a 99% success rate.


"I got used to my condition, but I am really looking forward to not being used to it," states Caitlin.


The clinical expertise and technology available at McLaren are giving young people like Caitlin the opportunity to get off medications, cure their condition and enjoy life. In mid-August she headed back to college, taking on the responsibility of Resident Assistant on her dorm floor, and she has not missed a beat since!

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