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Cold, Cold Heart

By Melissa Newton, CBS 11 News
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(credit: Kambou Sia/AFP/Getty Images)

(credit: Kambou Sia/AFP/Getty Images)

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FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.com) - A new procedure aimed at repairing a common heart condition is giving patients a safer way to kicked their heart back into rhythm.

An estimated three million Americans have atrial fibrillation, a condition where an electrical disturbance causes rapid and irregular heartbeats, also known as heart flutters.

The condition can lead to blood clots or even a stroke.

Pat Graham, 64, of Fort Worth, first noticed symptoms of atrial fibrillation five years ago.

“I was awakened with my heart running all over the place, and I thought ‘boy this was strange,’” he explained. “if anything, you can’t live like this.”

Graham has tried several different medications but none of them worked. Thursday he tried something else: a new procedure called cryoablation.

Only a handful of hospitals nationwide are offering the procedure, which was just approved by the FDA in December.

Texas Health Harris Methodist Fort Worth is one of them.

“The cryo-balloon is indicated in individuals who have failed medical therapy,” said Dr. Theodore Takata, a cardiac electrophysiologist at the medical center.

The minimally invasive procedure uses small tubes or catheters inserted through a vein in the groin.

Dr. Takata can then map out the heart’s chamber using computerized technology and real-time x-rays.

From there, he inserts a balloon that will apply a freezing coolant directly to the tissue that is triggering the heart to beat irregularly.

“The intent is to electrically apply a lesion or an ablation to electrically isolate it,” he said. “We’re not quite at the point we can say ‘there’s no harm in trying’ but we’re getting closer.”

Previously, doctors used heat to fix the heart problem, but that method posed a much greater risk.

“When we use heat energy, unfortunately, we have the potential to damage other structures nearby the heart.” Takata said.

But that’s a danger that no longer exists thanks to this new, cold-based procedure.

Graham is only the second person in Tarrant County to undergo cryoablation and for him, it means getting on with his life, without skipping another beat.

“I love to hunt, fish, play tennis, golf,” he said, “and you want a heart rate that sort of allows you to do that.”

The procedure can take up to four hours.

Patients are usually back at home the next day.

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