Frank's Story: Ablation for a Unique Case

Frank giving a thumbs up

No two human bodies are alike.

And while that makes us who we are, it can also be a complicated thing to deal with for a physician.

Frank was born with Rh disease, an incompatibility with his mother’s blood type, which necessitated a transfusion at birth. Shortly after the transfusion, a blood clot formed in Frank’s umbilical vein causing narrowing in a different vein that’s responsible for carrying oxygenated blood to the liver as well as an occlusion, or blockage, to his inferior vena cava.

Frank’s circulatory system was uncommon, and it caused a number of conditions including portal hypertension. In addition, Frank was affected by mitral valve prolapse. The good thing was that these issues were successfully managed through a network of physicians for much of Frank’s life.

Dealing with Arrhythmia

Fast forward forty-nine years, and Frank’s mitral valve had deteriorated enough to require a repair. Oftentimes, during a mitral valve repair, precautions are taken to avoid any arrhythmia that may occur secondary to the possible disruption of the electrical pathway caused by the surgery. In Frank’s case, this precautionary procedure, called a MAZE procedure, was unsuccessful.

Seven years later, Frank developed a complex arrhythmia that was detected on an EKG during a follow-up appointment. His resting heart rate of over 100 had left him symptomatic; he was tired and his quality of life was quickly deteriorating. He was referred to electrophysiologist Dr. Brian Betensky in Sarasota, Florida who realized from Frank’s CT scans that he was not a candidate for a conventional cardiac ablation procedure due to his unusual circulatory path. Frank needed a specialized intervention, but the procedure required a technical capability that wasn’t available in Florida. However, Dr. Betensky knew just the place that could help.

A Unique Solution at Penn Medicine

Over a thousand miles away, the electrophysiology program at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania (HUP) was performing an innovative cardiac procedure for patients like Frank. Dr. Betensky knew this program and the lead physician performing the procedure; he even completed part of his medical training there.

Frank was quickly connected with Penn Medicine’s Dr. Pasquale Santangeli. After discussing his case and options, Frank made the decision to do everything in his power to ensure that this was carried through. Testing was performed at his home in Florida and results were sent electronically to the electrophysiology team in Philadelphia. On March 21, 2017, Frank flew to Philadelphia, checked into the hospital and was prepped for surgery. Hours later, with zero pain or discomfort, Frank was walking around with a normal heart rate.

Innovative is a word often used to describe the electrophysiology program here at Penn Medicine. To see a patient, with no other option, be able live life to the fullest is worth it. This new catheter ablation procedure provided a solution that was not available anywhere else, and it saved Frank’s life. Often turned down at other institutions and told there is no option for treatment, patients with A-Fib and inferior vena cava obstruction now have hope.

Frank will tell you that the heart is a part of your spirit; it is the physical manifestation of it. When faced with life’s challenges, you need your heart. Without it functioning the way it should, life can feel insurmountable. Penn Medicine gave Frank the treatment he needed and ensured his spirit remained intact and ready to take on new challenges.

About this Blog

The Penn Heart and Vascular blog provides the latest information on heart disease prevention, nutrition and breakthroughs in cardiovascular care.


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