Kenneth – Less Invasive Surgery Synchronizes a Heart and Restarts a Life


Comparing my life before the surgery to after is like comparing night to day.  I’m active again and in good shape – with absolutely no heart arrhythmia.

Atrial Fibrillation / TT Maze Procedure

“Bring it on,” said Kenneth, a recently retired 62-year old who swims for 50 minutes several times a week.  While that fitness level may be uncommon for men Kenneth’s age, it’s especially surprising for a man who had to rest after climbing a flight of stairs not long ago.

It was during the holidays in 2001 that atrial fibrillation began causing Kenneth’s heart to beat erratically.  The first serious bout sent him to the hospital, but he learned over time that sleeping usually restored the rhythm and he grudgingly adjusted his lifestyle to accommodate the breathlessness.  He also started taking medications to control the symptoms and prevent the atrial fibrillation from causing a stroke, but he didn’t like relying on the medications to work without causing other problems.

“I was getting ready to retire,” said Kenneth, “but my activity level had changed so dramatically that I wasn’t looking forward to it.”

Because the medications were not providing the relief Kenneth needed, electrophysiologist Larry Wolff, M.D. talked to him about volunteering as a study participant for a minimally invasive surgery that cardiovascular surgeon James Longoria, M.D. was pioneering.  He explained that instead of a traditional open heart Cox Maze III surgery used to correct atrial fibrillation; Dr. Longoria would perform a Totally Thoracoscopic Maze (TT Maze) procedure using probes placed through small incisions. Though Kenneth was an excellent candidate for the new procedure, which would involve smaller incisions and less scarring, less postoperative pain, and faster return to normal living than open heart surgery, Kenneth wasn’t ready to undergo any heart surgery.  After another year of feeling that his life was on hold, Kenneth celebrated his 60th birthday and decided it was time for a tune up.

“About a week before my surgery, I was rototilling my yard,” said Kenneth.  “I’d work for 10 minutes then rest, work for 10 minutes, then rest.  It took me four days to do what now takes four hours.”

While certainly less invasive than open-heart surgery, getting to the well-protected heart still requires that the ribs, muscles and nerves be separated for the probes to pass through.  Kenneth’s heart stopped misfiring immediately, and has remained steady since, but he had a bad reaction to the painkillers and the nerves and muscles took longer to heal than he hoped.  As the procedure has continued to be perfected, recovery times have shortened, but Kenneth knows his recovery was still nothing compared to a friend who underwent open heart surgery about the same time.

“Most important is how I feel,” Kenneth said.  “Comparing my life before the surgery to after is like comparing night to day.  I’m active again and in good shape – with absolutely no heart arrhythmia.”