St. Mark's Hospital
December 11, 2014

  • This advanced A-fib (atrial fibrillation) treatment is available for the first time in Utah at St. Mark’s Hospital and Ogden Regional Medical Center
  • A cardiac surgeon and two cardiac electrophysiologists combine their expertise to help patients with long-standing, persistent A-fib – who have exhausted other treatment options
  • The minimally invasive hybrid procedure combines a surgical ablation and a catheter ablation during one hospital stay
  • The innovative procedure effectively restores the heart’s normal rhythm in patients with advanced atrial fibrillation

For the first time in Utah, a cardiac surgeon and two cardiac electrophysiologists are working together to provide an innovative treatment for patients with advanced atrial fibrillation. These heart specialists are collaborating to perform a minimally invasive hybrid ablation procedure that combines a surgical ablation and a catheter ablation during one hospitalization. It effectively restores the heart’s normal rhythm, often when other types of treatment have failed.

The hybrid ablation procedure is now available at two MountainStar hospitals in Utah:   

  • Cardiac surgeon, David G. Affleck, M.D., collaborates with cardiac electrophysiologist Michael D. Eifling, M.D. to provide the hybrid ablation procedure at St. Mark’s Hospital.  
  • Dr. Affleck teams up with cardiac electrophysiologist Peter G. Forstall, M.D. to perform the hybrid ablation procedure at Ogden Regional Medical Center.

“We appreciate the purposeful collaboration between these cardiac specialists to bring the hybrid ablation procedure to Ogden Regional and St. Mark’s,” says Michael H. Baumann, M.D., MS, chief medical officer at MountainStar Healthcare. “With it, they have a more effective way to help patients with difficult-to-treat A-fib – especially those who have had ablations that failed and no other treatment options.”

Gregory R. Angle, CEO at MountainStar Healthcare added, “This is another example of our ability to share best medical practices across our network of hospitals. In this manner, we can bring advanced procedures to more of the communities we serve where they will provide the most benefit to patients.”

In what could be considered as a best-of-both-worlds approach, these unique teams conduct two procedures over the course of one hospital stay. First, Dr. Affleck performs a series of ablations (small, controlled burns) on the outside of the heart through 3-4 small incisions on each side of the patient’s chest. The ablations block the storm of chaotic electrical signals related to A-fib, keeping them from disrupting the heart’s rhythm. He also removes the left atrial appendage to lower the patient’s stroke risk.

Three days later, Dr. Eifling conducts a detailed mapping of the inside of the heart via a catheter to identify more errant electrical signals. He then applies catheter ablations to areas that could not be completed on the outside surface. This two-step process creates a scar that goes completely through the heart tissue, which more permanently blocks misfiring electrical signals.

Another advantage of the hybrid approach is the electrophysiologist’s ability during the catheter ablations to confirm that the errant signals have been successfully interrupted. Further, many patients can stop taking blood thinners and other A-fib medications after the hybrid procedure.

At St. Mark’s Hospital and Ogden Regional Medical Center, the collaborative, team approach to treating A-fib goes well beyond the hybrid ablation procedure. At both hospitals, the cardiac surgeon, cardiac electrophysiologists and others work together to monitor patients with this disruptive condition and help them better manage the often complex treatment process. They customize each patient’s care plan and do everything possible to eliminate A-fib from their lives and reduce the risk of heart failure and stroke.      

“St. Mark’s Hospital is fortunate to associate with Drs. Affleck and Eifling, both of whom are innovative and very oriented to excellence in terms of quality of care, safety, efficiency, and satisfaction to the patient,” says Steve Bateman, CEO of St. Mark’s Hospital.

A 2012 report from the American Heart Association estimated that between 2.7 and 6.1 million people in the United States had atrial fibrillation in 2010. Given that the risk of A-fib significantly increases with age; that estimation is expected to increase between 5.6 and 12 million by 2050.

A-fib treatment typically starts with medications. If this approach does not work or stops being effective over time, heart specialists attempt to shock the heart back into rhythm with cardioversions. Additional treatment options often include a catheter or surgical ablation, which electrically isolates regions in the heart that trigger A-fib. Some patients require two or three ablation procedures to achieve a normal heart rhythm. Others continue to suffer with a heart that “feels like it’s jumping out of their chests,” shortness of breath, chest pain and other symptoms despite undergoing all or most of these treatments.