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Ken's Story

Patient Finds Permanent Solution for Severe Atrial Fibrillation

H2H Fall 2013 AFib

As a retired B-727 Captain with over 20,000 flight hours, Ken Shorsher is not used to staying in one place. Unfortunately, a severe case of atrial fibrillation became so debilitating for Shorsher that he refused to travel too far from his cardiologist for fear of a serious episode.

Atrial fibrillation is the most common type of arrhythmia,” explains Dr. Pavlo Netrebko, FACC, cardiologist with Cary Cardiology. Dr. Netrebko specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of electrophysiology problems such as atrial fibrillation. “During an arrhythmia, the heart can beat too fast, too slow or irregularly. In addition to causing symptoms, a person with AFib has an increased risk of stroke or heart failure.”

It was New Year’s Day 2006 when Shorsher was first diagnosed after he woke up with an irregular heartbeat, gasping for breath. “It was a relief, honestly, to know what was going on and that there was a name for what I was experiencing,” said Shorsher. “I had experienced symptoms before and wondered if I was having a panic attack or anxiety. I just didn’t know what to do about it.”

Over the next seven years, Shorsher sought the solution he wanted – to be AFib free – with numerous treatments. He first tried medication therapy, which kept his symptoms under control for a while. Unfortunately, his AFib episodes came back worse than before. He then underwent two cardiac ablation procedures, both of which worked for only a short time.

“A cardiac ablation is a procedure where we destroy (ablate) the tissue that causes abnormal rhythm problems,” explains Dr. Netrebko. “While the success rate for this procedure is high, there are many patients with advanced disease who do not experience relief with conventional ablation. Until recently, there weren’t many options for these patients.”

“By the time I met Dr. Netrebko, I was desperate for a solution,” said Shorsher. “I had tried every option I thought was available and was still having 7-8 episodes a day. Atrial fibrillation was running my life. I was retired and should have been traveling and enjoying myself, but instead I was scared to travel more than a few miles away. When Dr. Netrebko told me there was a new treatment option, I was so hopeful and excited.”

H2H Fall 2013 AFib doctor

“I told Ken about a new approach to treating atrial fibrillation,” explains Dr. Netrebko. “Known as the “convergent” procedure, this new minimally-invasive option requires both an electrophysiologist and a cardiothoracic surgeon. We work together on the inside and outside of the heart using radiofrequency ablation to address all causes of atrial fibrillation. Through this combined approach, we are able to address all circuits responsible for atrial fibrillation and ensure completeness of ablation before we finish the procedure.

“My experience at WakeMed was unlike any of my previous surgical experiences,” Shorsher continues. “I wasn’t just a number here. The entire team – from the registration staff, to the nursing and support staff – they made me feel so wonderful, like I was at a party instead of having a major surgery. I had no stress and the care was off the charts. With the Heart Center Inn, the chaplains, the tea service and most importantly, the world-class medical professionals – WakeMed has truly thought of everything. I am so grateful for my experience and my outcome.”

A week after his procedure, Shorsher headed off to Disney World with his wife and grown son, and he’s been AFib free ever since. He no longer worries while on the golf course, riding his bike or traveling. “Seven years after being diagnosed with AFib, my life is finally back to normal. I feel like a teenager again,” he concludes.

In fact, Shorsher is considering renewing his pilot’s license now that his life is back to normal. He hopes his experience will inspire others who’ve been suffering with AFib not to give up.