Charles Vranek surrounds himself with classical music. He listens to the radio and his CD collection regularly. He holds season tickets to the Pacific Symphony and is privy to in-home performances by his favorite pianist, his wife of 53 years. The joy of classical music was an escape for Charles for relaxation. It was something he could always count on – and needed – especially when he started developing heart issues.

While working in a demanding corporate environment, Charles developed high blood pressure at 45 years old. For many years, he struggled to keep it under control, and in 2010, at age 70, he began experiencing chest pain.


Charles received two cardiac treatment procedures, but later began to experience arrhythmia, or abnormal heart rhythm.

“My heart was racing at over 125 beats per minute,” says Charles. “My doctor explained to me that the normal rate is 60 to 100.”

Charles had developed two common forms of arrhythmia: atrial flutter (AFL), which is characterized by a rapid, irregular heartbeat that originates from the right side of the heart, and atrial fibrillation (AFib), which is characterized by a rapid and irregular heartbeat that is initiated from the left side of the heart. Although resulting from different locations, both conditions can lead to the same serious cardiac complications.

“The two most life-threatening complications from AFL and AFib are stroke and congestive heart failure. The blood in the heart is not emptied effectively during the arrhythmia, which leads to poor blood flow,” says Thuy Le, M.D., cardiologist and electrophysiology specialist at Orange Coast Medical Center. “This remaining blood may pool and form a clot. If this clot breaks free, it can cause a stroke.”

An arrhythmia may be very brief – a single skipped heartbeat, or a faint fluttering sensation in the chest or neck. It can also be more pronounced, lasting from a few moments to several days.

“When left untreated, the rapid beating over a prolonged period of time can weaken the heart muscle, leading to heart failure. This was the case for Charles,” says Dr. Le.


AFL and AFib are often managed with medication. However, there are instances when the medication fails or its side effects are intolerable.

In these cases, minimally invasive ablation procedures can be performed to destroy – or ablate – select cells that are conducting unwanted electrical impulses.

In 2011, Dr. Le performed radiofrequency ablation to correct the AFL in Charles’ heart. Using a catheter with an electrode on the tip, radiofrequency is transmitted to cauterize the site of the heart causing the misfire.

“This procedure has a 90 percent success rate for AFL, and was a great treatment option for Charles. Unfortunately, radiofrequency ablation only has a 70 percent success rate for AFib and is six-to-eight hours long with high risk of recurrence.”

Dr. Le continued to manage Charles’ AFib with medication, but the side effects became problematic and his heart rate slowed to 40 beats per minute, leaving him feeling tired, sluggish and unmotivated. Then, in 2014, Charles became a candidate for cryoablation.

Cryoablation uses extreme cold, instead of heat, to target problematic heart cells. During the procedure, a tiny, deflated balloon is threaded through a catheter into the upper left heart chamber. Once in place, the balloon is inflated, cooled to sub-zero temperatures, and applied to the areas that initiate the erratic electrical signals. In a matter of minutes, the extreme cold creates circular scars that block the abnormal impulses.

“Cryoablation takes two-to-three hours, and is more efficient than radiofrequency ablation for AFib,” says Dr. Le.


Together with her husband and fellow Orange Coast Medical Center cardiologist Jay Lee, M.D., Dr. Le performed Charles’ cryoablation, which was a huge success. Post-surgery, Charles has not needed any medications and his heart rate is exactly where it needs to be.

Today, he and his wife are enjoying their retirement, and attending concerts at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts.

“My heart now beats like a metronome. I’m at 70 beats per minute with a normal sinus rhythm,” says Charles. “And we’re taking full advantage of every minute that we can.”

For more information, please call (714) 378-7207, or visit our section on Heart & Vascular Care.