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Ever wonder how medical breakthroughs come about? How did doctors discover that they could put transplant a pig’s heart valve into a human heart and significantly improve the human patient’s quality of life? Or that they could put a little battery in someone’s chest that could pace the heart when it goes too slow? The answer is simple: hours and hours of research.

The desire to cure arrhythmias—or at least significantly improve the lives of patients who suffer from them—is why the doctors at Texas Cardiac Arrhythmia Institute (TCAI) are so gung-ho about research. Several of the techniques and protocols that are standard in arrhythmia management were developed by physicians right here at St. David’s, after doing extensive research to determine what gives the best outcomes for patients.

Earlier this year, for instance, TCAI became the first facility in Central Texas to use a surgical bipolar approach to treat persistent atrial fibrillation (AFib) using radiofrequency ablation. TCAI doctors performed the procedure as part of a study aimed at evaluating the effectiveness and safety of targeting the outer (epicardial) and inner (endocardial) surface of the heart with radiofrequency ablation. The procedure represents a groundbreaking collaboration between electrophysiology and cardiothoracic surgery—the electrophysiologist targets the inside of the heart and the surgeon works on the outside.

While the equipment used in the study procedure was all FDA-approved when used separately, its use together, to treat AFib, is purely investigational. TCAI electrophysiolgist Javier E. Sanchez, M.D., is a principal investigator for the study, and James Edgerton, M.D., is the co-investigator.

It remains to be seen whether the hybrid procedure will prove to be a breakthrough in AFib treatment. But the fact that TCAI doctors are eager to cross into unknown territory to cure AFib certainly proves exciting.
~ Jamie LaRue, RN

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