ARLINGTON, Va. (WUSA9) -- Atrial fibrillation (AFib) affects some 3 million Americans. The upper chambers of the heart beat erratically, and blood is not pumped to the body in an efficient way. Symptoms include palpitations, chest pain, fainting and shortness of breath.
Virgnia Hospital Center is the first in Northern Virginia to offer a new minimally-invasive approach to treat advanced atrial fibrillation. It is called the Convergent Maze Procedure.
Jim Poplawski is one of the patients who has benefitted from it. The 54-year-old from Sterling, Va. had tried medication, attempts to shock his heart back into sync, and several ablations, in which radio-frequency energy is channeled through a catheter to disrupt the circuits causing the abnormal rhythms.
None of it worked for Poplawski. He remembers, "We went through quite a bit."
Part one of the new technique begins in the operating room with cardiovascular surgeon, Dr. John Garrett.
Dr. Garrett says, "In surgery, I make a less than inch incision just below the breast bone and I go into the abdomen and put some instrumentation in and then I open the heart sac."
He uses this cannula, equipped with a mini suction device to treat the back of the heart, an area that's tough to reach.
"It sucks up the back of the heart and I deliver radiofrequency burns which causes scars and ablates the normal heart rhythm," Dr. Garrett says.
Then it is time for part two of the procedure with electrophysiologist, Dr. Haroon Rashid.
Dr. Rashid says, "Once he eliminates those abnormal circuits in the back of the heart, the patient is moved to the electrophysiology lab and I take over."
He looks at what he calls a voltage map to perform more ablations and eliminate any remaining trouble spots.
Dr. Rashid says, "Once we do that, most of our patients trip back into normal rhythm."
"It's much safer," Dr. Garrett says. "Patients with this procedure go home after one day in surgery and they literally have an incision that is less than an inch long."
As a patient, Poplawski says the procedure was easy on him, as was the recovery.
"They put you out and I woke up later that day. Really no pain at all," Poplawski says. "Nothing major that a couple of Tylenol's didn't take care of. They had me up and walking around the next day and out in a copule of days. I was back at work in a week and a half."
Since the Convergent Maze Procedure in October 2012, Poplawski has had no AFib symptoms, and has been able to stop taking most of the heart medications he needed before.