FALL RIVER, Mass. (WPRI) — A heart procedure that’s part of a new study looking at ways to fix atrial fibrillation without damaging healthy heart cells was done for the first time in the world at Charlton Memorial Hospital in Fall River.
It’s not the first accolade for the center. In fact, Dr. Peter Cohn points to this accomplishment as a result of the unique care he says this center provides.
He said that while patients can drive to Boston or Providence, they choose Fall River instead, “because they know what we offer, they know the technology, they know the care, and also what we offer versus teaching hospitals.”
“Here, the patient comes in, they see their cardiologist, they see their cardiac surgeon, and they see the cardiac team,” Cohn added. “I think that’s a huge advantage that we offer, because you only know your patients, as a physician, you really know your patients’ care and you know your patient, and I think that means a lot to the patients.”
The prevention of AFib and stroke from AFib are the focus of this study which Southcoast Health cardiologists and electrophysiologists are taking part in.
AFib is when there are irregular electric currents in the two upper chambers of the heart which can cause it to beat out of rhythm and potentially lead to a stroke.
The procedure is called Pulsed Field Ablation and an East Providence man was the first to undergo the groundbreaking process. In the long run, the goal is to make it so that patients are no longer required to take daily medication after having the one-time procedure done.
The cardiac electrophysiologists at Charlton take pride in being the first in the world to perform this procedure as part of a new widespread study. They say Pulsed Field Ablation is done through a catheter that’s fed up in the vein in the leg and into the heart.
“It delivers two-second electrical shocks, or electrical impulses, that create irreversible pores in the cell membrane,” Dr. Nitesh Sood explained. “So rather than taking the cell and burning or freezing and destroying the actual cell and causing necrosis, or tissue destruction, you’re just putting tiny little pores in the cells and the abnormal cells become dysfunctional.”
Sood was the doctor who performed the first Pulsed Field Ablation at Charlton.
“The patients that are candidates for the trial are ones that have tried a medicine, an anti-arrhythmic medicine, that hasn’t worked and they keep having atrial fibrillation, so that’s specifically for this trial,” Dr. Arnoldas Giedrimas said.
When it comes to AFib, some common symptoms are shortness of breath and heart palpitations, but Giedrimas says the most common symptom is no symptom at all. It’s very important to regularly get a checkup from a doctor.
It’s been studied in animals for a few years, but only 50 patients in the world at three other clinics were part of the preliminary trial. Charlton was the first to do it in a broader study among patients in the United States, Canada, Europe and Australia.
The cardiology team at Southcoast Health also touted their involvement in another study comparing the use of blood thinners to another heart device known as the WATCHMAN.
They’ve been performing WATCHMAN procedures for a few years, but never in a study comparing its efficacy to newer blood thinners. According to Dr. Saltzman, Southcoast Health was the first hospital in New England to join this study.
“It’s called the Champion trial. It’s looking at patients with AFib, and the concerning thing about AFib is it predisposes to stroke. And so, it’s testing two different strategies to reduce the risk of stroke in people with AFib,” he said. “It’s a one-time, catheter-based procedure with a WATCHMAN, versus long-term blood thinners with novel oral anti-coagulants.”
They’ve enrolled one patient, but because the study compares two methods, it’s uncertain which method — the medicine or the device — will be randomly selected by a computer for the patient. If the patient is selected for the WATCHMAN, he or she will be monitored closely for months. The team of doctors will check the device through an echocardiogram.
The WATCHMAN has already been compared to older blood thinners, and Saltzman says it has been proven to be successful in preventing stroke without the need for taking daily blood thinners.
In order for patients to be selected for the study, Saltzman says men must have at least two risk factors with AFib, and women have to have at least three.