Walking to a New Beat

Walking to a New Beat

Vickie Otten will never forget the late-night trip to the Emergency Room that set her life on a different course.

“I remember that visit all too well,” Vickie, said. “After almost a year of uncontrolled heart problems, I was admitted to the hospital. I felt hopeless and tired – something had to change.”

Vickie consulted her internist, neurologist and cardiologist after leaving the hospital. Referred to Olathe Health, she began a journey to treat her non-valvular atrial fibrillation (a-fib), eventually making her dreams of international travel and visits to the gym a reality.

Early Days

Vickie’s road to recovery began 20 years ago, when she was first diagnosed with non-valvular a-fib, a condition that occurs when abnormal electrical signals in the upper chamber of the heart cause the upper and lower chambers to beat out of sync. Although the condition can cause palpitations (fluttering, fast-beating heart) and arrhythmia (irregular-beating heart), sometimes leading to fatigue, shortness of breath and/or blood clots, many individuals go years without experiencing complications.

Vickie managed her a-fib through medication, diet and exercise, but she began to experience more symptoms as she got older.

“What began as short periods of arrhythmia lasted increasingly longer. It got so bad I couldn’t sleep on my left side,” Vickie recalled. “My day-to-day activity was limited, and I just felt sick all the time.”

Vickie’s health worsened when she suffered a hemorrhagic stroke (a brain bleed) in 2019. Fully recovered from the stroke but unable to tolerate blood thinners due to her a-fib, Vickie’s cardiologist referred her to Ravi K. Yarlagadda, MD, FACC, FHRS, an electrophysiologist with Olathe Health Cardiology Services.

Medical Intervention

Vickie first met with Dr. Yarlagadda to evaluate her treatment options in 2020.

“Preventing stroke in a-fib patients is always a top priority,” Dr. Yarlagadda said. “Some patients cannot tolerate blood thinners used to prevent strokes, making catheter-based intervention their best means of prevention. Vickie’s previous stroke increased her risk for another stroke.”

With this in mind, Dr. Yarlagadda scheduled Vickie for cryoablation, a minimally invasive interventional procedure that uses extremely cold temperatures to restore a normal heartbeat by destroying the abnormal electrical impulses that cause the arrhythmia. Once recovered, Vickie would under a procedure to close her left atrial appendage (LAA), an area where stroke-related blood clots typically form.

“Vickie’s treatment plan was two-pronged because we had to address her symptoms related to a-fib and eliminate the need for blood thinners that were otherwise used to mitigate her risk for stoke-related blood clots after cryoablation,” Dr. Yarlagadda explained. “While it’s unusual to perform cryoablation and LAA closure (LAAC) surgery on the same patient, both treatments were necessary.”

Dr. Yarlagadda performed Vickie’s cryoablation in October 2020 and her LAAC in December 2020. Both procedures were successful.

A New Lease on Life

After about five months of recovery, Vickie felt like herself again. Her heart was beating normally; she did not feel sick; and she finally had the energy to enjoy the activities she deferred before surgery. In just two months of retirement from the Lawrence-based restorative dental practice she owned with her husband, Vickie spent two weeks adventuring in the Caribbean. Her new normal consists of morning walks with her husband and dog; weightlifting with her friend at the gym; and serving on the boards of Lawrence non-profits. Most importantly, Vickie feels like she can do what she wants again.

“It’s been a year and a half since Dr. Yarlagadda changed my life,” Vickie said. “It is such a comfort to know my heart can support the things I love.”

Making the most of her new chapter, Vickie plans to visit her granddaughter in California, who is heading off to college to study aerospace engineering next fall. Dr. Yarlagadda will continue to monitor Vickie’s heart health through annual checkups.

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