San Antonio nurse Dorothy Phillips recalls that it was the word "cure" that first grabbed her attention.
"I had seen a short article in a nursing magazine announcing the formation of the Texas Cardiac Arrhythmia Institute in Austin and noticed the word 'cure' in the article," Dorothy explains.
At the time, Dorothy had just had her second cardiac ablation (for atrial fibrillation) in San Antonio and knew that it was not successful. Her life with A Fib had endured for nearly a decade after it started abruptly on New Year's Eve 1999.
"I had spent the day shopping with my daughter and after returning home I bent down to get something in my closet and it felt like my heart flipped over in my chest," she recalls. "It felt like it was beating a thousand times a minute."
About an hour later, Dorothy told her husband to drive her to the hospital but along the way she became worried about what was happening to her.
"I thought I was going to die," she recalls. "My heart was racing so fast it felt like it was quivering. I was short of breath and lightheaded."
In the Emergency Department, Dorothy was diagnosed with an irregular heart beat and ultimately placed on medication. When that didn't work, she underwent two ablations in the San Antonio area, one in October 2006 (which provided some relief) and a repeat procedure in April 2008. Shortly after Dorothy's second ablation she noticed the magazine article about electrophysiologist Andrea Natale, MD, and his record of curing people suffering from atrial fibrillation. She wasted no time in scheduling a consult.
"Mt first impression of Dr. Natale was that he was extremely kind, professional and humble," she recalls. "He's out there for the patient."
During the consult, Dorothy felt a glimmer of hope. By that time, her symptoms had worsened and she had begun feeling discouraged.
"I had no life," she recalls. "As a nurse in a breast cancer clinic I worked long, tiring days. The A Fib and the medications I took to control it made me tired. I wanted to enjoy my grandchildren but did not have the energy to run and play with them. I was always so short of breath."
Because she had already experienced two ablations, Dorothy was somewhat familiar with the procedure. However, she noticed that Dr. Natale had a different approach. While her first two ablations were eight to 10 hours each, Dr. Natale performed the procedures in about half the time. There were other differences as well.
"I was awake during my first two ablations in San Antonio, but with Dr. Natale I was asleep," she explains. "Also, Dr. Natale used a cooling pad, which slowed my heart rate so that he had a clear vision of what he was working on. I believe that this made a difference. And after the procedure my IV was removed right away. That was a good sign!"
Because Dorothy underwent previous ablations, the formation of scar tissue added complexities, but Dr. Natale's experience and expertise eased Dorothy's mind.
"We have a medical library where I work and on the topic of atrial fibrillation I noticed that Dr. Natale wrote many of the books and articles," she says. "Even though I was at a crossroads between fear, despair and hope, I had a sense of peace about Dr. Natale. He is remarkable."
Months after the ablation, Dorothy leads an active and fulfilled life. When she is not at work, she and her husband Richard enjoy spending time with their 13 grandchildren.
"My greatest pleasures are playing with my grandchildren and being with my husband," Dorothy says. "After the ablation that Dr. Natale performed, I can take advantage of every minute. I can't describe it other than it is like 'night and day' compared with the two previous ablations."
As part of the ablation follow-up, Dorothy stays in contact with nurse educator Karla Wolter, communicating via phone and e-mail, and sending in occasional EKG strips for Karla and Dr. Natale to review. For the first time in about a decade, Dorothy is free of A Fib.
"Dr. Natale devotes himself to his patients," she says. "I want the world to know how grateful I am, not for just another day but for the quality of each day."