With Heart Problem Solved, He Doesn’t Miss a Beat
In his free time Gary Bennet enjoys riding his Gold Wing motorcycle.
For more than 20 years, Gary Bennet would have what he called “the jitters,” or find himself perspiring for no apparent reason, and have to sit down until he felt normal.
“I could be doing anything,” said Bennet, who lives in West Branch and retired in April from a career as a paramedic. “One time I was taking a patient’s vital signs, and I suddenly started to drip, drip, drip.”
Then, six years ago, when Bennet was about to have surgery on his wrist, his doctor ordered an electrocardiogram and discovered he had atrial fibrillation, or AFib.
In AFib, the heartbeat is too fast, too slow or chaotic. The heart can’t properly pump blood and deliver oxygen to the body. If not resolved, AFib can cause blood to pool in the heart and form a clot, increasing the danger of stroke or embolism.
“For months, I was in AFib more than I was out,” Bennet said. As tests such as an echocardiogram and heart monitoring were used to track his symptoms, his doctors tried to determine the right medications and dosages to control his heartbeat.
“I was always out of breath and sweating,” he said. “It affected my work. I’d come home and crash on the couch, get up and go to bed, get up and go to work, come home and do it all over again the next day.”
Some time earlier, he had met Electrophysiologist Nilofar Islam, M.D., a cardiologist who specializes in heart rhythm disorders. They had discussed a minimally invasive procedure used to correct AFib.
“From the very first time I met Dr. Islam, I absolutely respected her,” he said. “We started talking and she listened, then she explained everything to me and my wife and made it very clear. I really felt comfortable and had no anxiety about doing what she suggested.”
Dr. Islam performed a cardiac catheter ablation, and Bennet’s heart rhythm was normal for three and a half years. When his AFib returned, he had the procedure again at another hospital. AFib patients are at risk for developing future arrhythmias such as atrial flutter or AFib from another location.
By that time, he was getting ready to retire. He wanted to spend more time honoring military veterans as part of the Patriot Guards, building schools with his church’s international missions program, and spending time with his family, especially his 10-year-old grandson. He was glad to have more strength and energy, and not need to wonder when atrial fibrillation was going to strike.
When Bennet’s AFib came back for the third time just a few months later, he decided to return to Dr. Islam. By then, she had joined the comprehensive cardiovascular team at MidMichigan Medical Center–Midland, bringing her extensive diagnostic experience and insight to the Medical Center’s new electrophysiology (EP) laboratory, which is specially equipped to offer every diagnostic and therapeutic EP procedure. With these capabilities and two electrophysiologists on staff, the program has the best resources in the region.
“I am here because I trust you,” he told her. “I want to ask you a question, and I want you to be 100 percent honest. Is atrial fibrillation something I need to live with? If you say it is, I’ll just turn it over to God and I’ll be done,” Bennet said. “But if you tell me it can be fixed, I want to talk about it.”
Dr. Islam took the time to address Bennet’s every question or concern. He said she has a wealth of information, and it was clear she wanted to make sure her patients were well informed and understood how she could fix their problem.
“Treatment of atrial fibrillation with cardiac catheter ablation is one area of cardiology where we can truly cure the patient, not just alleviate the symptoms,” she explained. “Many people with arrhythmia symptoms come in frustrated, but go home dramatically better, often without the need for long-term medications.”
A short time later, Dr. Islam performed a cardiac ablation procedure, and also implanted a pacemaker, at MidMichigan Medical Center–Midland. With the lab’s advanced technology, she was able to test each area of his heart, locate and remove all the problems, and confirm successful treatment.
Bennet stayed overnight, went home the next day, and hasn’t had any problems since. “I have more energy, and people have even told me my color is better. I anticipate being able to stop taking heart medication,” he said.
“When I asked Dr. Islam if atrial fibrillation was something I had to live with, she said no, it wasn’t. She said she could fix it, and she did.”
MidMichigan Health offers a full array of heart and vascular services, including open heart surgery, vascular surgery, electrophysiology for heart rhythm problems and advanced interventional procedures. For more information, visit www.midmichigan.org/heart.