Health News

McLeod heart patient shares his story


At 71, Paul Johnson from Hartsville is holding off old age by staying active through daily exercise and a job he enjoys.

In March 2023, while on a one-mile run, he suddenly became short of breath and lost his energy. Paul downloaded information on his Apple Watch that said his heart was in Atrial Fibrillation.

Paul was not familiar with Atrial Fibrillation but knew he needed to seek medical attention. He had his daughter Trina bring him to the McLeod Regional Medical Center Emergency Department.

Atrial Fibrillation, one of the most common irregular heart rhythms, is an abnormality of the electrical system of the heart. It is a rapid beating of the upper chambers of the heart, which prevents the heart from pumping blood adequately to the lower chambers.

People who suffer from Atrial Fibrillation may experience heart palpitations, irregular heartbeat, shortness of breath, dizziness, and mild to severe chest pains. Many also experience feelings of fatigue, lightheadedness, shortness of breath, or lack of energy during exercise caused by the heart’s diminished pumping ability.

It is also important to know that Atrial Fibrillation does not always have symptoms. Many patients are not even aware they have it.

In the Emergency Department, an electrocardiogram (ECG) test confirmed Paul’s diagnosis of Atrial Fibrillation. An ECG is a quick and painless test, which records a few seconds of the electrical activity of the heart. Paul was referred to McLeod Electrophysiologist Dr. Cyrus Kocherla.

To restore Paul’s heart to a normal heartbeat, Dr. Kocherla recommended a Cardioversion treatment. Cardioversion uses one or more quick, low-energy shocks to the heart delivered through electrodes attached to the chest to convert the heart back to normal rhythm. While the effect of a Cardioversion lasts for many patients, some see their abnormal heartbeat return days or weeks after treatment. When this occurs, a repeat Cardioversion can be performed.

After two Cardioversions, Paul continued to experience episodes of Atrial Fibrillation. Patients whose rhythm does not stabilize after Cardioversion treatments may be referred for a Catheter Ablation. This is a procedure that destroys the heart tissue causing the irregularity.

“When Dr. Kocherla discussed the Catheter Ablation I felt like this was going to be the option for me,” said Paul. “I wanted my life back. Atrial Fibrillation had put me on the couch. I was unable to go to work and would get exhausted just taking a shower.”

Catheter Ablation is performed through catheters (narrow, flexible wires) that are inserted into the blood vessels through the groin area.  They are then guided through the blood vessels to the heart using X-ray imaging.

Once the catheters are in place, a burst of heat destroys the tissue cells that are triggering the abnormal electric signals to stop them from traveling through the heart.

Catheter Ablation was the answer for Paul. “I knew it would be a little while before I was fully recovered, but I could tell the difference immediately after the procedure,” said Paul.

Today, he no longer experiences episodes of Atrial Fibrillation. He has been able to cut back on his medications, return to his daily exercises, and work again with his daughter Trina and son-in-law Lee at their small trucking firm in Hartsville. Paul and his wife Maxine are also thankful for more days with their grandchildren, Jake and Bryce.

“I never believed I would experience heart trouble,” said Paul. “I am so glad I was guided to Dr. Kocherla. He is a top-of-the-line professional, and I am appreciative of the care he and McLeod were able to provide to me.”