Pinehurst, N.C. — A Moore County hospital is pioneering a new type of surgery that has a high success rate correcting a dangerous heart condition.
First Health Moore Regional Hospital in Pinehurst recently performed the surgery on televangelist and former presidential candidate Pat Robertson for the heart condition called atrial fibrillation.
In people with the condition, erratic electrical circuits throw the heart out of normal rhythm, and the upper two chambers of the heart beat irregularly. Some patients respond well to medication, while others might need surgery.
Dr. Andy Kiser, with First Health, pioneered the convergent procedure, in which a cardio-thoracic surgeon works on the outside of the heart while an electrophysiologist works inside the heart.
The object is to scar the heart tissue with heat, or ablation, to redirect electrical impulses and restore normal rhythm. That can be accomplished by either a catheter procedure inside the heart or laparoscopically through a small incision below the breast bone to scar the heart's surface.
Sometimes, however, either approach alone is not a permanent solution.
"So by combining the two, you kind of attack the problem right up front, rather than potentially bringing the patient back for a repeat procedure," said Dr. Mark Landers, an electrophysiologist with First Health.
The surgery is done while the patient is asleep and does not require bypass surgery.
"It's a really nice way to do it, and the patients feel great afterwards," Kiser said.
Kiser has traveled around the world to train other doctors in the convergence procedure. Overall, 70 patients have undergone the procedure, including 25 at First Health. Between 90 and 95 percent have normal heart rhythm afterwards.
Carolyn Thompson had the convergence procedure done in February to correct atrial fibrillation. She said that while before she couldn't walk 40 feet without needing to sit, her heart now stays in normal rhythm.
"I can walk and walk and not get out of breath," Thompson said. "It's wonderful. I call it the amazing procedure."