How Ron Got His Beat Back

Ron Flores, 60, felt his first symptoms of supraventricular tachycardia (SVT) in mid-2012, when his heart started racing and he felt light-headed. The Encinitas resident shrugged off that first episode as a case of too much caffeine.

"I’ve never had a thing wrong with my heart,” Ron says. “I’ve always been pretty active, hitting the gym two or three times a week and bike riding.”

Soon the episodes were weekly, his heart galloping at 200 beats per minute for two hours or more. Once it happened while he was driving on the freeway. When it happened on a bike ride, his frightened wife called the doctor.

Ron’s doctor conferred with a cardiologist, who recognized the symptoms and immediately referred him to Navinder Sawhney, M.D., an electrophysiology cardiologist and medical director of the new Electrophysiology Lab at Palomar Medical Center.

Ron’s heart behaved normally during treadmill tests and an electrocardiogram (EKG). He resisted wearing a heart monitor for a month to capture the unpredictable episodes but promised to head to the closest hospital next time it happened.

It was a Sunday. The ER physician was able to record the runaway electrical activity. But to stop Ron’s heart from racing, the rhythm was reset by briefly stopping and restarting his heart with the drug adenosine. “It was a horrible, horrible experience,” Ron recalls. “I was awake and it was very painful.”

Ron was told medication could control his arrhythmia but there was no guarantee he wouldn’t need another reset. “There was no way I could live with that,” Ron says.

Dr. Sawhney suggested that Ron try a procedure called radiofrequency ablation (RFA), where a catheter is inserted into a vein in the patient’s leg and guided into the heart.

"Once the problem is found, the catheter delivers a radiofrequency energy to heat up that area of heart tissue to ablate (cauterize) it so it stops behaving abnormally,” Dr. Sawhney says. “The patient will usually go home the same day of the procedure or the next day, depending on the type of arrhythmia that was ablated.”

 Ron arrived for his procedure at Palomar Medical Center at 5:30 a.m. and left by 4 p.m. Three weeks later, he was strapping a kayak to the roof of his car before an outing with his wife and grandchildren.

“I feel so much better physically than I have for the last year,” Ron says. “I was feeling pretty awful while the episodes were happening. Thank God, I’m doing quite well now.”

“If you have SVT, one option is to take medications for the rest of your life,” Dr. Sawhney says. “Another option is to go to the hospital for a day and be cured for the rest of your life.”

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