Retired professor's heart ready for more treasure hunts

Retired Eastern Illinois University professor Michael Leyden, PhD, spent his career on archeology and paleontology expeditions, which included helping to recover the jaw bone of “Peck’s Rex,” the Tyrannosaurus Rex discovered in Fort Peck, Montana.

His teaching took him all over the world, and now that he has the time to travel for pleasure, he enjoys visiting family overseas.

So when doctors diagnosed him with atrial fibrillation (AFib,) he worried his traveling days were over.  

“I had AFib for about a year,” Leyden said. “I felt a rapid heartbeat and pressure on my chest. I never had any pain. I was on medication, but my AFib didn’t go away. Finally, my doctor in Charleston referred me to Carle for a heart ablation.”

An ablation is a catheter-based procedure for patients who have electrical short circuits in the heart. Specialized cardiologists called electrophysiologists use the catheter to send radiofrequency energy to a small part of the heart muscle, burning the tissue. By cauterizing the area causing the short circuit, the heart can beat at its normal rhythm.

The cathether goes through the patient's blood vessels until it reaches the heart. Doctors do not need to perform open heart surgery.

At Carle, Leyden saw electrophysiologist Anuj Garg, MD.

“My doctor highly recommended him, so that put me at ease,” Leyden said.

The procedure sounds simple enough, but the delicate nature of entering the patient’s veins takes a steady hand.

“These procedures can last two to six hours depending on the type of abnormal heart rhythm,” said Dr. Garg. “We use X-rays to look at the heart while we’re doing the procedure.”

“To minimize the exposure to radiation from the X-ray, we use specialized tools at Carle, and these tools allow us to use less than a minute of radiation for the entire ablation.”

Leyden was impressed with how the nurses and scrub techs prepped him for the life-saving procedure. 

“They reminded me of a NASCAR pit crew plastering my chest with sensors and wires and adjusting monitors so that Dr. Garg could fine-tune the spark plug—a.k.a. heart—so I could get more miles in my life’s journey,” he joked.

A race car pit crew works fast, but Leyden never felt like his healthcare team was in a rush. 

“Everyone was thorough,” Leyden explained. “They talked to me and listened to my questions and made sure I was ready.”

“The procedure worked and I’m feeling great.”

According to Dr. Garg, atrial fibrillation is fairly common. It affects anywhere between two and six million people in the country. Many times AFib stays unrecognized and if untreated it can cause blood clots and stroke.

Leyden is ready to get moving again.

“I have a son and a daughter and three grandchildren,” he said. “I want to travel to Hong Kong and see my son and his family.”

Dr. Garg concluded, “If you have palpitations or irregular heart rhythm, get evaluated by your physician right away. With the advancement in science and technology, catheter ablation is an important tool that can easily help people with AFib and help them get off medication.”