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Robotic System Helps Treat Abnormal Heart Rhythms

ARLINGTON, Texas — A new robotic catheter system at Texas Health Arlington Memorial Hospital helps treat heart rhythm disorders more precisely with the push and pull of a joystick.

Dr. William Nesbitt
Dr. William Nesbitt, electrophysiologist on the hospital's medical staff, demonstrates the robotic system.

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Bill Ganss, one of the first patients in North Texas to receive the robotic procedure, lived with constant worry about his irregular heartbeat. The 49-year-old runner was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, the most common type of heart rhythm disorder, which affects 2.2 million in the U.S. each year. The condition can cause palpitations, fatigue, and an increased risk of stroke.

"It felt like my heart was flip-flopping," Ganss said. "It would beat quickly at times, and other times it would totally stop. It consumed my thoughts."

To correct Ganss' irregular heartbeat, Dr. William Nesbitt, electrophysiologist on the hospital's medical staff, used the new robotic system to perform an ablation procedure. During an ablation, a thin tube called a catheter is inserted through a small incision in the patient's groin and guided to the heart. The physician uses the tip of the catheter to pinpoint and destroy the source of heart arrhythmia using radiofrequency energy.

"Atrial fibrillation is really just electrical chaos in the top two chambers of the heart that interferes with the hearts normal rhythm," Nesbitt said. "During ablations, we burn the abnormal cells causing this chaos."

Nesbitt said the new robotic system allows him to perform ablations faster and with more precision than before. Traditionally, doctors stand over the patient in leaded suits and manually guide the catheter to areas of interest. With the robotic system, they control the catheter from a nearby station using a joystick. A three-dimensional map of the patient's heart displayed on a computer screen helps steer the catheter to abnormal areas with stable and predictable control, even in hard-to-reach areas.

As a result, patients experience less time under anesthesia and are exposed to less radiation. The pinpoint precision of the technology will hopefully also help improve outcomes, Nesbitt said.

For Ganss, a normal heartbeat returned two weeks after the robotic procedure.

"I can't wait to get back to exercise," he said. "I have a whole new perspective on life."