From Endeavors: Convergent Care

Heart surgeon Andy Kiser perfects a treatment for a potentially deadly form of irregular heartbeat and opens up a whole new vein of training for surgeons.

Pat Robertson is used to receiving messages from above. But never had such guidance come from a surgical-equipment salesman flying at 30,000 feet. Nor had it ever been advice to fix the preacher’s ailing heart.

Robertson, founder of the Christian Broadcasting Network, was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation in 2004. “It’s a terrible thing, when it comes upon you,” he says. “You’re very short of breath, and it just saps the life out of you.”

Atrial fibrillation, also known as A-fib, is the most common form of irregular heartbeat; it occurs when errant electrical signals disrupt the normal signals that regulate the heart. The result is diminished blood flow, which causes symptoms like those Robertson suffered, as well as increased risk of stroke.

“I remember once I had to do a telethon, which is long, hard work,” Robertson says. “I was so exhausted that I could hardly hold onto the platform in front of me. Unless somebody’s had it, they don’t understand how debilitating A-fib can be.”

He tried several medications over the years, but they all eventually failed him. His doctor suggested a cardiac ablation—inserting a catheter with an electrical probe through an artery and into the heart to deaden misfiring cells. At first, it worked. But months later Robertson was back in A-fib. Doctors tried an ablation again, and again it failed.

Robertson implored his doctors to try something else. The only real option, they said, was to shock his heart back into the proper rhythm.

“They put you under anesthesia, and then they shock you,” Robertson says. Once again, the problem was only solved temporarily. “I wound up having this procedure seven or eight times—about every four or five months,” he says. “I was there so often that the folks in the hospital began calling the machine the Pat-Zapper.”

That’s when he received the life-changing message from above.

“A friend of mine happened to sit next to a surgical-equipment salesman on an airplane,” Robertson says. “He told my friend about this surgeon in North Carolina who invented a procedure to correct A-fib. My friend urged me to call the surgeon, and that’s how I met Andy Kiser.”

Click here to read the full article from Endeavors.