Sue Patient StoryFor years, Sue, 81, has lived with atrial fibrillation (AFib) – an abnormal heart rhythm condition known as an arrhythmia. AFib occurs when the upper chambers of the heart (the atria) rapidly beat in an unsynchronized rhythm. This erratic rhythm predisposes patients to formation of a blood clot within the left atrium and subsequent stroke. To reduce risk of stroke, patients are commonly placed on blood thinner (i.e. oral anticoagulant medications) as per American Heart and Stroke Association Guidelines. 

During a family trip to visit her son, Sue visited with her longtime cardiologist, Omid Vahdat, M.D. He decided to monitor her AFib by giving her a holter monitor – a small device measuring the heart’s activity. One day, Sue experienced a 10-second pause in her heart beat and immediately passed out. She received a call from Dr. Vahdat and monitoring company to check on her. After that episode, Dr. Vahdat decided to implant a pacemaker.

Recovery was going well, and after a couple weeks, Sue began experiencing shortness of breath.

“I couldn’t walk more than 10 feet without shortness of breath,” says Sue. “I had to constantly sit down and catch my breath, it was a terrible feeling.”

These abnormal symptoms sent Sue to her local hospital’s emergency department. She was found to have a hemorrhagic pericardial effusion, or a collection of excess fluid and blood around her heart. Tests also revealed cardiac tamponade – a compression of the heart that is caused by fluid pressure. Her condition was critical and her local hospital couldn’t provide the level of care she needed. Sue was rushed by ambulance to the MemorialCare Heart & Vascular Institute at Long Beach Medical Center.

The MemorialCare Heart & Vascular Institute is one of California's most comprehensive centers for diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation of cardiovascular disease. Its specialty is providing advanced care for complex heart conditions using innovative techniques, such as minimally invasive surgery through small incisions with specialized equipment.

Once she arrived at Long Beach Medical Center, Dr. Vadhat and Amir Abolhoda, M.D., board-certified cardiothoracic surgeon, MemorialCare Heart & Vascular Institute, Long Beach Medical Center, quickly drained the fluid from her heart and successfully stopped further bleeding. After she was stabilized, she was at a higher risk of stroke due to the absence of anticoagulation.

To reduce her risk of blood clot formation and stroke, Dr. Abolhoda used a minimally-invasive robotic-assisted approach via the left-chest cavity using the da Vinci® Xi™ and applied an AtriClip™ device to eliminate blood flow to the left atrial appendage. Theoretically, elimination of the left atrial appendage will reduce an AFib patient’s risk of stroke by more than 90 percent in the absence of anticoagulant medication.

Robotic-assisted transthoracic surgeries are at the forefront of technology in minimally invasive procedures. Surgeons at Long Beach Medical Center use the da Vinci® Xi™ to perform operations through 1-2 cm incisions and utilize a console that emulates the surgeon’s natural hand, wrist and finger movements. Surgical instruments are directed across or through the chest cavity using the console.

“Using robotic-assisted surgery, Sue recovered very quickly and was able to return home after two days,” says Dr. Abolhoda.

Since Sue’s surgery, she has gradually increased her activity and returned to her hobbies.

“I’m thankful that I was at the right place at the right time,” says Sue. “The doctors and care teams at Long Beach Medical Center were excellent and immediately instilled confidence in me that I would receive the best care – and I did!”