Section: Saint Barnabas Medical Center News

The Beat is Back


Vanessa M. experienced a troubling sensation one spring day in 2012. “It felt as if I’d swallowed my cell phone and it was vibrating inside my chest,” the 30-year-old recalls.

Those heart palpitations were the first sign that Vanessa had atrial fibrillation, or “AFib,” the most common heart-rhythm disorder. AFib often causes a fast, irregular pulse and can lead to heart failure or stroke.

Over the next few months, Vanessa developed other AFib symptoms, including a slight swelling of her right foot and debilitating shortness of breath.

“I had no life,” says Vanessa, an admissions representative at a technical school. “I couldn’t do simple things like taking a walk or going shopping without feeling out of breath.”

Vanessa’s best chance for a cure was robotic-assisted ablation. This catheter based treatment combined a sophisticated cardiac navigation system to map the electrical signal in her heart and a state of- the-art robotic catheter for the precise placement of radiofrequency energy that eliminated the abnormal areas that gave rise to her AFib. Physicians at Saint Barnabas Medical Center’s Atrial Fibrillation Center are among the most experienced in this highly technical procedure.

“Since then, I haven’t experienced any AFib symptoms and I’ve been able to go off my heart medications,” reports Vanessa, who plans to celebrate with several trips abroad this year.

Even her recovery was relatively easy: “I just had a little soreness,” she notes.

Comparing the way she feels today with those difficult months before the ablation, “It’s a huge difference,” says Vanessa. She credits the AFib team, and especially her physician, cardiac electrophysiologist David Dobesh, M.D.

“Dr. Dobesh gave me my life back,” she says.

All about ‘aFib’

David Dobesh, M.D., a cardiac electrophysiologist at Barnabas Health’s Atrial Fibrillation Center, explains atrial fibrillation, or AFib, a heart-rhythm disorder in which the heart rate suddenly becomes irregular, usually rapid but sometimes very slow:

Who is at high risk?

“Medical conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure can place an individual at greater risk for AFib and its complications. It’s also more common as you age, though you can have it in your 20s or 30s as well.”

What are the symptoms?

“Some people have no symptoms at all, but for others the problem can be nearly debilitating. Common symptoms include getting out of breath easily and feeling your heart pounding in your chest. You can also have dizziness or chest tightness.”

What are the treatment options?

“Most people manage AFib well with medication. The others may need catheter ablation, a procedure done in the hospital. We use radio frequency waves to cauterize the target areas.”

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