Last year, a minor earthquake erupted inside Johnnie Beavers' chest.
But yesterday, in a Kentucky medical first, physicians at the University of Kentucky Hospital used an experimental new technique called "microwave ablation" to calm the tremors in Beavers' heart, and give him back his breath.
During a non-surgical procedure lasting more than four hours, doctors directed microwave radiation -- the same kind of energy produced in home microwave ovens -- to "ablate," or make tiny burns, inside the upper chamber of the patient's heart.
The treatment was designed to block or destroy electrical pathways in the heart that were firing erratically and causing the upper chamber of the heart to quiver -- a condition called "atrial flutter."
Efforts to control it with conventional therapy had failed. But late yesterday UK officials termed the new treatment a success. They said that Beavers, 45, a music teacher, should be able to return to his Matewan, W.Va., home today.
It was the first time that microwave ablation -- approved by the FDA for study only in late August -- has been used outside California, where the first 10 or 12 procedures were performed. UK is one of five U.S. medical centers studying the technique.
UK's Dr. Andrea Natale, who treated Beavers and is a principal investigator on the study, says that, if early results hold up, microwave ablation could be an important alternative for patients whose atrial flutter defies traditional therapies.
Beavers just hopes it will give him his old life back. Until last year, he was a high school band director in West Virginia. But he had to quit after atrial flutter struck.
"I know now that I've had the problem for years, but it didn't get really bad until last year," he said shortly before the surgery. "I was so short of breath I almost didn't get through our homecoming parade. A few days later I went to the hospital, and they put me right in intensive care. It was pretty s
Contact: Vikki Franklin
University of Kentucky Medical Center