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An active, upbeat grandmother of nine, 63-year-old Christine Vercellotti was considering trimming back her busy schedule. Simply walking upstairs in her Schaumburg home was leaving her out of breath and she often fought fatigue.
Christine noticed heart symptoms—fluttering and sometimes racing—but she chalked them up to decades of living with mitral valve prolapse, a condition in which the valve between the left chambers of the heart does not close properly.
Unbeknownst to her, Christine was in a near-constant state of atrial fibrillation, a condition in which erratic electrical signals disrupt the heart's normal, coordinated beating rhythm. Left untreated, "A-fib" episodes can become more frequent, and can increase risk for heart failure and stroke.
Once diagnosed, Christine tried medication and other treatments, but her racing heart and fatigue persisted. "I became very depressed. I felt I kept going back to square one," she says, adding that the worry of stroke was constantly on her mind.
Then she was referred to Albert Lin, MD, a board-certified clinical cardiac electrophysiologist on staff at Northwest Community Hospital. Electrophysiology (EP) is the science of diagnosing and treating electrical activities in the heart. Working with a doctor certified in this science allowed Christine to feel confident that the health of her heart was in good hands.
Dr. Lin told Christine about a new treatment at NCH called cardiac cryoablation. "Electrical signals coming from the pulmonary veins appear to trigger atrial fibrillation. Cryoablation uses pressurized liquid coolant to freeze and electrically isolate those pulmonary veins. This prevents electrical signals from initiating atrial fibrillation," he explains.
Called the Arctic Front® Cardiac CryoAblation Catheter system, this innovative tool is the first FDA-approved balloon ablation technology commercially available for the treatment of atrial fibrillation, which means it was designed specifically to treat A-fib. "Rather than adapting tools that were not specifically designed for this procedure, this is the first tailored approach for atrial fibrillation," Dr. Lin says.
"Cryoablation technology reflects NCH's commitment to using leading-edge therapies that are usually only found in academic medical centers," Dr. Lin says. This means patients like Christine can find the latest in technology and expertise close to home.
As a result of the combination of experience, expertise and excellent outcomes, NCH has been ranked a Top 100 Hospital for Cardiovascular Care by Thomson Reuters five times in the last decade. It is home to the first accredited Chest Pain Center in the northwest suburbs, and the multidisciplinary teams of cardiovascular specialists provide a technologically advanced, comprehensive cardiac program close to home.
According to Christine, NCH's medical and clinical excellence is balanced with a caring, attentive and creative atmosphere. "During my recovery, I never once had to push a buzzer to ask the nursing staff for anything. They were always there with personal touches to help me stay comfortable," says Christine, whose surgery required an overnight stay. "I really enjoyed the therapy dogs. The night of my surgery, a big Labrador therapy dog was brought into my room, and he just put his head on my hand and stared at me with big, brown, gorgeous eyes. That made me feel a lot better."
Just one month after surgery, Christine's energy has returned and she is back to enjoying long walks with her own dog, Tanner. Not only is her heart beating normally, but her life is a little lighter these days, too. "A big burden was lifted emotionally," she says. "It's like I was carrying around a 20-pound weight and I don't have it anymore."
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