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Intermountain becomes first in U.S. to deploy heart-mapping tool for cardiac arrhythmia

MURRAY — Three Utahns and their doctors made history Monday at Intermountain Medical Center.

They became the first in the U.S. to use a new heart-mapping tool to detect and treat atrial fibrillation.

The software, known as the EnSite Precision cardiac mapping system, creates highly detailed 3-D maps of the heart that allow doctors to see electrical flows in the heart in real time.

Although 3-D heart-mapping tools have been around for about 15 years, this device represents a significant leap forward, according to Dr. John Day, medical director at Intermountain Heart Rhythm Specialists.

"Going back 15 years ago, I would maybe collect one data point every 10 to 15 seconds," Day said. "Now we get 200 per second."

The GPS-like system communicates with electrodes on a patient's back and chest, as well as reference catheters inside the heart to map the heart’s electrical currents.

The system is so precise that it also can track a patient's breathing and heart contractions. The precision of the mapping tool allows doctors to shorten the procedure, decreasing the chance for complications and increasing the chance for success, Day said.

Charles Waldo, 63, of West Jordan, was the third person Monday to go through the procedure.

Waldo has had heart issues for the past 16 years. But they worsened significantly in the past five months, when his atrial fibrillation — or what he calls "flub-dubs" — began to plague him on an increasingly regular basis.

"When you're just sitting there and taking it easy and your heart starts doing an unnerving rhythm, it's very unnerving," Waldo said.

Atrial fibrillation is the most common heart rhythm disorder in the U.S. Somewhere between 2.7 million and 6.1 million Americans live with it. The rapid, irregular heartbeat weakens the heart and greatly increases the risk of stroke.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration cleared the software, which was developed by St. Jude Medical, on Dec. 15.

Intermountain was chosen to be the first hospital to deploy the tool because of its long history of atrial fibrillation research and leadership in national medical societies, Day said.

To treat cases of atrial fibrillation that don’t respond to medicine, doctors burn or freeze parts of the muscle to try to redirect the electrical currents that are causing the irregular heartbeat.

With the new mapping technology, the adjusted electrical current is immediately visible on the computer screen.

"You can remap and see in real time," Day said.

Waldo said he was nervous and joked that he’d “rather have a colonoscopy than this.” But he was also excited to make history.

"You always like to stay on the cutting edge of medical technology and see what it can do," Waldo said. "It's always good to be a part of that."

The procedure is minimally invasive, according to Day, who said the new software significantly cuts down on the amount of time patients have to spend in the lab.

"People will come out of it basically with just a Band-Aid," he said.