PINEHURST, N.C. -- A trip from the front door to the mailbox used to be out of the question for Carolyn Thompson.
"Thanksgiving and Christmas I wasn't able to do anything," she explained. "I couldn't attend any family get-togethers. I couldn't cook. I couldn't do my housework. I was basically in the bed."
Like millions of Americans, Thompson's lifestyle took a timeout, because of a heart condition known as atrial fibrillation, or A-Fib. The exhaustion occurs when, the upper chambers of the heart known as the atria, beat erratically, instead of in rhythm.
Simple tasks like climbing a flight of stairs are difficult for people with A-Fib. Symptoms include shortness of breath, dizziness, light-headedness and weakness.
A-Fib can be also deadly, sometimes causing blood clots which can lead to strokes. Thompson tried different medicines, but they only made matters worse.
"I actually wrote my own funeral plans, that's how bad I was," she told CBN News. "I thought I was going to die from all the medications I was on."
Then Thompson underwent a groundbreaking procedure at First Health Moore Regional Hospital in Pinehurst, North Carolina.
Cardiothoracic surgeon Doctor Andy Kiser and Cardiologist Doctor Mark Landers created what they call convergent ex-maze. The key is the combination of specialists.
"I hate to use the word hybrid term," Dr. Kiser said. "It's more of a co-disciplinary approach to treating A-Fib. Now you don't have just a surgeon, but you have a surgeon and an electrophysiologist working together to treat atrial fibrillation. I think that's the best thing about the convergent procedure."
During the procedure, the surgeon uses ports, small cameras and laparoscopic instruments to look at and operate on the heart. Then the cardiologist uses a special machine to send energy through a catheter to destroy small areas of tissue to achieve a regular heartbeat.
"If we try to get them back into a normal rhythm and we do, they usually are surprised how badly they had been feeling and how well they feel in a normal rhythm," Dr. Landers explained.
Convergent ex-maze is patient-friendly, because unlike other A-Fib surgeries, it does not require a painful chest incision and there's no need to stop the heart.
Doing it while the heart is beating allows for instant feedback. The doctors can test the rhythm during the procedure to make sure it works.
"So we can do the operation," Dr. Kiser said. "Dr. Landers can do his part, and we actually go back and try to stimulate the heart to go into atrial fibrillation and if we find a problem, we can fix it right there, instead of the heart's stopped, it's not beating, so we can't test anything."
The procedure has an 85 percent success rate and a short recovery time.
"Most who have it on a Wednesday go home Saturday or Monday, go home Thursday, is usually the typical course," Dr. Landers explained.
Thompson says it saved her life. She's off her medicines, is A-Fib free and has the energy of a teenager.
"There are 50-something steps to my office," she said. "Before I would never take the steps. I couldn't even get to the steps. Now I walk up 50-something steps and I'm fine. I mean it's remarkable."
To find out more about the new procedure, visit the hospital's website. The hospital's toll-free telephone number is (800) 213-3284.
*Originally published September 8, 2009