Zach Lindsey

Late one evening in June 2010, Zach Lindsay, then just 30-years-old, was studying for a final exam. He drank a tall glass of cold water and went to bed. But he didn’t feel right. He later got up, splashed water on his face and tried to calm his racing heart. But it didn’t work. He woke his fiancé and asked to be taken to the emergency room near his Scottsdale home.

There, doctors diagnosed Lindsay with atrial fibrillation, an irregular heartbeat, and gave him drugs to slow his fluttering heart. After his heart converted to a normal sinus rhythm, he was sent home with prescriptions for beta blockers including metoprolol to prevent recurrences.

“I felt horrible on medication,” Lindsay says, “and I was having recurrences every couple of weeks. I needed relief, and the combination of medications wasn’t doing it.”

Lindsay did some research and decided that cardiac ablation – a procedure in which misfiring heart tissue is purposely killed in order to correct the heart rhythm problem – could possibly fix his heart. He visited specialists in the Valley and traveled to San Francisco to meet with one of the nation’s top electrophysiologists.

“But everyone I saw just kept making decisions based on the original doctor’s diagnosis,” he says. “They weren’t conducting any additional tests to confirm the root of my problem, which I thought was more than regular atrial fibrillation.”

Then one day he read about cryoablation – an ablation procedure that uses cold rather than heat – and local expert Wilber Su, MD. He met with him two days later.

“It was like night and day,” Lindsay says. “Dr. Su read, page by page, everything related to my heart. At the end he thought it was ectopic atrial tachycardia, not atrial fibrillation.”

While ectopic atrial tachycardia and atrial fibrillation often mimic one another, the main difference is that with ectopic atrial tachycardia, the problem area that causes the heart to go into spasm originates from just one point, rather than many. The surgical approach is different, and most importantly, the typical atrial fibrillation ablation proposed by Lindsay’s other doctors would not have fixed his ectopic atrial tachycardia.

In April 2011, Dr. Su identified Lindsay’s problem area and performed an electrical study on his heart to identify the irritable spot that was making the heart race rapidly. Performing curative cryoablation via a catheter inserted through Lindsay’s leg and threaded into his heart, Dr. Su was able to avoid collateral damage to a critical area of the heart.

“We have all the tools we need to determine the problem area and ablate it safely,” says Dr. Su. “Had Zach gone through the typical atrial fibrillation procedure suggested by others, he may have undergone extensive ablation and taken many unnecessary risks, and not even come close to solving the real problem. ”

The advanced procedure wasn’t available in a minimally invasive fashion until recently. One benefit of cryoablation is simply safety: there is a period after the ablation begins where the process is reversible, so if Dr. Su had noticed any effects he didn’t like during the procedure, he could have simply stopped, and the process would have reversed itself. In contrast, by the time a physician sees any ill effects from a burning ablation, it may already be too late. With Lindsay’s problem area so close to his heart’s conduction system, had there been a mistake with heat ablation, he would have needed a pacemaker for the rest of his life.

Medication free

Lindsay was able to go home the evening of the procedure.

“I was tired the next day, and my heart rate was elevated for a couple of weeks, but that’s normal due to the irritation from having my heart poked at and frozen,” he says.

Today, he’s off all of his medication and has had no recurrences.

“A lot of things fell into place to make this happen,” he says. “From doctors who were too busy to see me to reactions to medications that I couldn’t tolerate, it all ended up leading me to Dr. Su. It was a night-and- day difference between him and the others. I’m so happy to have found him.”