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      Advancing technology is helping eliminate atrial fibrillation

      Sharon Massie loves to bowl, but last winter she had to sit out from her bowling league because of her heart. Sharon noticed she had an irregular heartbeat which turned out to be an arrhythmia called atrial fibrillation. So in January, she underwent ablation surgery.

      "Atrial fibrillation is the most common arrhythmia nationwide certainly, but also worldwide," said Dr. Robert Kennedy. "It's an irregular rythem in the left atrium or the upper chambers of the heart."

      Dr. Kennedy is one of only two cardiologists at Munson Medical Center in Traverse City who performs ablation, a procedure that can eliminate the condition in most patients like Sharon.

      "Ablation is essentially focused on eliminating the triggers of atrial fibrillation which in 90% of patients in the early stages of the disease comes from the pulmonary veins," Kennedy said.

      Doctors insert a catheter in the top of a patient's leg and using highly accurate 3D image maps, go up to the heart where those triggers are located and basically burn them away.

      "It's a radio frequency energy. It's applied to the inner surface of the heart and it's damaging to those cells beyond the point where they can function or conduct electrical signals anymore," Kennedy said.

      Now Sharon is feeling better and she's back at Fred's Bowing Alley in Roscommon every Monday night.

      "If you catch a-fib in the early stages of the disease; you're symptomatic and perhaps tried a medication, we see success rates in eliminating atrial fibrillation making patients symptom free approximately 80%," Kennedy said.

      Dr. Kennedy says with all the technology advancements, this procedure is now available to many more patients.

      "In medicine it's very rare to walk into someone's office and say 'well you're cured you never have to see me again," Kennedy said. "It's bittersweet the accuracy of that technology is improved, procedures become much more mainstream, more applicable, more available in the communities outside the academic centers and the big cities."

      Sharon's bowling ball is now a little lighter but she is definitely back in the game.

      "I don't have the palpitations anymore, none of that and it's just wonderful. It worked out great."

      Click here for more information on the Munson Heart Center or the ablation procedure.