Robert Paine’s 2017 diagnosis with atrial fibrillation, an irregular heartbeat often called AFib, seemed to come out of the clear blue. He was in his early 30s and over 15 years into an active career with the US Navy. The strenuous job involves working on a submarine near Bremerton’s Naval Base Kitsap and requires good physical health, so prompt, effective treatment was essential.
His Naval hospital physician referred him to cardiac electrophysiologist Nathan Segerson, MD, at Bremerton’s Harrison Medical Center. Dr. Segerson recommended cardiac ablation surgery, which is often used to treat AFib with excellent outcomes.
But Robert’s condition seemed to resist treatment. Despite a carefully monitored treatment plan, Robert’s AFib returned, along with symptoms like fatigue, an elevated heart rate, and a strange clenching sensation in his chest.
On Thanksgiving Day 2018, Robert received another surprise. The day began like any other, he said. But that quickly changed. “I finished my shower and started texting a friend, then looked down at my phone and suddenly couldn’t understand what I was reading,” he said. “I looked down and saw that I’d put toothpaste on my razor. I knew it wasn’t right, but I couldn’t figure out why it wasn’t right. Then I realized I couldn’t speak.”
He dialed 911 immediately; at the hospital, he learned that he’d experienced a mini-stroke called a transient ischemic attack, or TIA. People with AFib have increased risk for stroke and other dangerous conditions like blood clots and heart failure.
Soon after, Robert learned that he was a candidate for the Left Atrial Appendage Closure (LAAC) procedure, a surgery that implants a small device to reduce the risk of stroke in patients with AFib.
For Robert, the procedure offered an opportunity to continue doing what he loves. “Without the LAAC procedure I would need to take blood thinners for the rest of my life, which is a disqualifying factor for working on submarines,” he said.
Robert’s LAAC surgery took place in February of 2019. Within a couple of weeks, he was back to exercising regularly. “I feel great now. I’m working out and getting back into shape; I’ve lost 25 pounds,” he said. “It was a long process to get to this outcome, but comparing how I feel now to how I felt before, it was worthwhile.”