After finishing a particularly challenging heart transplant procedure, Dr. Jonathan Philpott’s heart started to race, and he couldn’t catch his breath.
In the middle of the post-operation briefing, the cardiothoracic surgeon no longer heard the conversation. He was mentally tracking his heart rate, worried that he could have a stroke. Then, he had an epiphany:
“I was having my first experience with Atrial Fibrillation (Afib), or irregular heartbeat. So, this is what it’s like,” I thought. “This is what Afib patients have been telling me for years. Now I get it!”
This Afib episode broke after a few tense minutes, but Dr. Philpott had learned firsthand how disabling and overwhelming Afib can be for the more than five million Americans who suffer from the condition. Even with his training and experience, though, he had no idea what course of treatment would be right for him, or which physician he could trust, because outcomes reporting wasn’t available.
Taking a team approach
He realized the urgent need for a dedicated, studied approach to treating Afib patients. That led to the formation of the National Alliance of Integrated Afib Centers, or NAIAC, with a group of other likeminded heart centers.
The five founding NAIAC heart centers banded together to ensure that all Afib patients get team-based, personalized care and the full spectrum of available options and information to receive the best treatment possible.
The NAIAC centers are among the best in the world: Sentara Heart Hospital in Norfolk, Va., as well as Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute in Los Angeles, St. Helena Arrhythmia Center in Napa Valley, California, St. Vincent’s Medical Center in Bridgeport, Conn., and Orlando Health Heart Institute in Florida. They are committed to a multidisciplinary approach to Afib care and have agreed to share data and adhere to rigorous quality standards across the NAIAC centers. Their mission is to improve collaboration among heart specialists at each center as they expand NAIAC membership among other U.S. heart centers.
At a NAIAC center, patients meet with a surgeon and an electrophysiologist (EP), a cardiologist with specific training to diagnose and treat cardiac arrhythmias (abnormally fast, or slow heartbeats. The patient meets with both doctors at the same time to discuss all of the available treatment options and outcomes data to make the most informed decision about the best treatment plan. Beyond medication therapy, which is often the first line of treatment, there are five procedures an Afib patient might undergo:
- Catheter Ablation – Performed by an EP. This procedure blocks disruptive electrical signals by using heat to scar, or destroy, heart tissue. It’s the least invasive Afib procedure.
- Cox Maze III Procedure – An open-chest procedure performed by a cardiothoracic surgeon, using a cut-and-sew method to scar the heart tissue.
- Maze Procedure – Open-chest procedure that uses heat to scar the heart tissue.
- Mini Maze Procedure – Minimally invasive surgical ablation. More invasive than catheter ablation, but less invasive than Cox Maze or Maze procedures.
- Thorascopic Hybrid Procedure – A surgeon and EP collaborate on this procedure, which combines catheter ablation and a mini maze procedure.
The ultimate goal of NAIAC is to improve the quality of life for Afib patients through long-term control of their episodes and less distress about when the next episode will happen.