BOSTON (CBS) — More than six million Americans have an abnormal heart rhythm called atrial fibrillation. For some people, traditional treatments just don’t work but doctors at a local medical center are using a new procedure to get those patients back in normal rhythm.

As the owner of an office cleaning service, 65-year old Pat DeGregorio walks about 10 miles a day, but three years ago, the Winthrop native woke up and could barely move.

“I couldn’t breathe,” he said. “I was just gasping for air.”

Pat was in an abnormal heart rhythm called atrial fibrillation or AFib where pacemaker cells in the heart go haywire, causing the heart to beat at a rapid rate. This often causes palpitations, chest discomfort, shortness of breath and puts patients at greater risk for stroke.

Pat DeGregorio was treated for an abnormal heart rhythm (WBZ-TV)

Pat was treated with powerful drugs and shocked multiple times to try to get his heart back into a normal rhythm, but nothing worked.

The next option was ablation, a procedure used to destroy the abnormally firing cells from within the heart. But for patients like Pat, that would risk damaging his esophagus, which could be catastrophic.

Pat was referred to Dr. Munther Homoud, a cardiologist specializing in arrhythmias as Tufts Medical Center, who recommended a novel approach.

“I made the decision then that he would be best be served, if he was looking for one procedure, to get this thing under control, it would be the Convergent or hybrid procedure,” explained Dr. Homoud.

With Convergent, a surgeon threads a tube through the bottom of the chest and creates scar tissue on the back of the heart while a cardiac electrophysiologist, like Dr. Homoud, threads a catheter through a vessel in the leg and creates scar tissue within heart, disrupting the abnormal pacemaker cells from inside and out.

Dr. Munther Homoud and Dr. Fred Chen (WBZ-TV)

Dr. Fred Chen, a cardiac surgeon at Tufts Medical Center, said by approaching the heart from two different directions, there is a better chance patients can achieve and maintain a normal heart rhythm, while protecting the esophagus from injury.

“The beauty of Convergent is that it creates a more complete scar tissue creation so that the efficacy of the overall procedure is higher than by an electrophysiological approach alone or by a surgical approach alone,” explains Dr. Chen.

Pat underwent Convergent a little over a year ago and his AFib is gone. He is back to walking 10 miles a day and grateful he can return to his greatest role, grandfather.

“I got two granddaughters and they need me as much as I need them,” said Pat tearfully.

Tufts Medical Center is using a new procedure to help patients with an abnormal heart rhythm. (WBZ-TV)

It’s estimated that 20-25 percent of AFib Patients would benefit from Convergent. Tufts Medical Center is currently the only academic medical center in Boston offering it.

For more information go to Tufts Medical Center’s website.

Dr. Mallika Marshall

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