Rickey Reed spent 41 years of his life as a paramedic, rescuing people in life-threatening situations. In early January, the tables turned, and Rickey found himself in need of help.
Preliminary testing before a routine colonoscopy showed that the 69-year-old had irregular heartbeats, a condition known as atrial fibrillation (AFib).
“I didn’t have any signs or symptoms — no pain, shortness of breath, swelling, or numbness,” he says. “I could have gone on for years with AFib and never known it. There’s a big risk of stroke or heart failure if it’s not treated.”
Shock to the system
After the surprise of his AFib diagnosis wore off, he saw an interventional cardiologist who was able to shock Rickey’s heart into a normal rhythm. The procedure worked — at first. About six months later, Rickey’s pulse was irregular again.
The plan this time was basically to do the opposite — freeze his heart.
“I’ve never been that comfortable with a hospital in all my life,” says Rickey who learned that he would need to have cryoablation, an advanced, minimally invasive catheter-based procedure that involves freezing specific areas of heart tissue.
The advantages of using cold rather than heat, Dr. Moore says, are more flexibility and accuracy. The tissue can be cooled gradually to determine the correct location of cells causing the irregularity before permanently freezing and disabling the tissue. If physicians disable the incorrect cells using cold therapy, they can return normal function to the cells by warming them back up. On the other hand, tissue damage caused by heat ablation can’t be reversed.
Dr. Moore says cryoablation has a good success rate in treating AFib.
“Among patients with newly diagnosed occasional AFib episodes and minimal scarred heart tissue, about 80% won’t need a second procedure in five years,” he says.
Early treatment is key
As Dr. Moore explains, using the extreme cold approach is ideal for newly diagnosed patients who have AFib episodically, rather than all the time. And he says cold temperatures are less likely to affect healthy heart tissue or other nearby structures.
“If you let AFib continue for many years, it can cause progressive scarring of the heart tissue, which is difficult to fix,” Dr. Moore says. “Treating AFib early with cryoablation actually keeps the disease from progressing and prevents scarring.”
Now, the paramedic who has dedicated years to helping others can look forward to a healthier future. Rickey spent only one night in the hospital and fully recovered in about one week. Today, Rickey says his two young grandchildren keep him and his wife of 48 years, Brenda, on their toes with karate, soccer, and basketball practices — and there’s no unsteady heart rhythm standing in his way.
“I’m so grateful for Dr. Moore and the Methodist Mansfield staff for getting me back to normal,” he says.