New ‘Afib’ treatment offers success for more heart patients

Tony Tomasello

Tony Tomasello had always been very active. So when a heart problem took away his energy, the Totowa man was determined to find a solution. He discovered it at Saint Barnabas Medical Center, an RWJBarnabas Health facility, where Tony was the hospital’s first patient to receive a groundbreaking treatment for atrial fibrillation or “Afib” -- a fast, irregular heartbeat.

“It’s like night and day, how I feel,” says Tony, just five months after the June 2015 procedure. “Now I’m back playing golf. I can get back on my motorcycle.”

At 72, Tony still works as a project manager for a demolition firm -- a physically demanding job he enjoys after 40-plus years in the industry.

“Before, I couldn’t go up steps without being exhausted. Now I climb ladders and go up on roofs,” beams the husband, father and grandfather.

In the past, there were no reliable treatments for people like Tony – Afib patients with other cardiac conditions such as an enlarged heart or congestive heart failure. But today, the “Afib hybrid maze” procedure is giving them their lives back.

The treatment consists of two types of ablation, a method of sealing the heart tissue causing the irregular rhythm. The first is performed on the outside of the heart through a small incision below the ribs. The second is done on the inside of the heart, using catheters threaded through veins in the leg.

Saint Barnabas is one of only a handful of East Coast centers to offer this minimally invasive treatment, notes cardiologist David Dobesh, MD, who conducted Tony’s procedure with Frederic Sardari, M.D., vice chairman of cardiothoracic surgery.

When the heart chambers are enlarged, explains Dr. Dobesh, more areas require ablation, including some that are more accessible from the outside. “Previously, ablation on the outside of the heart required opening the chest or collapsing the lungs,” he says. “Today, we can go in through a small, laparoscopic incision and use a tiny camera to accurately direct the therapy.”

Tony is grateful for the team at Saint Barnabas – including daughter Nicole, a nurse at the hospital, who first suggested he go there.

“It’s a step above anything else in this area,” says Tony. “The attitude of every staff member is incredible. They genuinely care about you.”