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Getting His Life Back in Rhythm

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Chuka U. feels cured after cardiac ablation at Temple

Before coming to Temple, Chuka’s symptoms often affected his daily life. His AFib episodes sometimes lasted hours, leaving him extremely tired.

Chuka U. was in his 20s when he started having heart palpitations.

“It felt like my heart was pounding and racing,” says Chuka, now 52. “You feel so uncomfortable, like you’re going to pass out.”

Concerned about his symptoms, Chuka saw a doctor, who advised him to stop drinking coffee. Meanwhile, Chuka’s heart palpitations continued to happen frequently. It would be years before a cardiologist gave him a proper diagnosis: atrial fibrillation (AFib).

A heartbeat out of sync

AFib is the most common form of arrhythmia, or abnormal heartbeat. In a healthy heart, the two top chambers of the heart, called atria, squeeze and relax. With AFib, the atria quiver quickly and irregularly. The symptoms of AFib include skipped, pounding or fluttering heartbeats; tiredness; dizziness; weakness; and shortness of breath. Having AFib increases the risk of heart failure and stroke.

Chuka’s symptoms often affected his daily life. His AFib episodes sometimes lasted hours, leaving him extremely tired.

“I would come home from work and my children would say, ‘Are you OK, daddy?’” Chuka says. “All I wanted to do was sleep.”

Chuka’s local cardiologist put him on blood thinners to help reduce his risk of stroke, a possible complication of AFib. He also thought that Chuka might benefit from seeing an AFib specialist at the Temple Heart & Vascular Institute to explore more AFib treatment options. That specialist was electrophysiologist Joshua Cooper, MD, FACC, FHRS.

Restoring the rhythm

Chuka, who lives in New Jersey, met with Dr. Cooper via telemedicine video calls for his initial appointments. Dr. Cooper reviewed Chuka’s records and test results and talked to him about his symptoms. He told Chuka that his treatment options included taking medications to control his AFib or having a procedure called cardiac ablation.

Cardiac ablation is a minimally invasive procedure. Doctors insert specialized catheters (thin, flexible wires) into blood vessels in the groin, then guide the catheters up to the heart. There, they use radio waves (radiofrequency ablation) or very cold temperature (cryoablation) to destroy with great precision the tiny areas of the heart that cause a patient’s arrhythmia.

Most AFib patients who undergo ablations at Temple have fewer symptoms. And the treatment might also help reduce the need for medications, as well as the risks of stroke and heart failure. In many cases, a single ablation procedure will successfully suppress AFib for the long term. Temple has the latest ablation techniques for AFib and other arrhythmias and is the region’s top referral center for these complex procedures.

After weighing the pros and cons of both options with Dr. Cooper, Chuka decided to move forward with ablation, hoping it would improve his symptoms and remove or reduce the need for medications.

‘Like a celebrity’

Chuka was amazed at the level of care he received from Temple. 

Chuka sitting on the bleachers

They didn’t treat me like a number.

Chuka on his care team at Temple

Dr. Cooper took the time to listen to Chuka and address his concerns about his upcoming procedure, even sharing his email address to make it easy for Chuka to reach out whenever he needed.

On one occasion, Chuka sent Dr. Cooper a question at around 10 p.m., not expecting a response until the next day. He was pleasantly surprised when Dr. Cooper responded within minutes. The night before his ablation procedure, Chuka had trouble getting a COVID-19 test. He emailed Dr. Cooper, who told him to come in early for a test and not to worry.

“I call him God-sent,” Chuka says.

Dr. Cooper’s direct and easy communication continued even after Chuka’s cardiac ablation procedure, which was performed in December 2021.

“It was so professionally done,” he says. “And afterward, Dr. Cooper came and explained to me everything went well, which I was happy to see. I was treated like a celebrity,” Chuka says.

After his cardiac ablation, Chuka says he no longer has the heart palpitations that disrupted his daily life. “It’s working fine,” he says.

Chuka took blood-thinning medications for a few months after his ablation, until Dr. Cooper let him know they were no longer needed. Now, he only takes medication for his blood pressure. He feels cured.

A gift from the heart

Chuka says he was so grateful to Dr. Cooper that he decided to send him and his team a gift. He and his wife chose a beautiful, edible arrangement.

“That was my way of saying thank you,” Chuka says. “Everybody was perfect.”

Not having heart palpitations anymore and the stress of feeling as though “my heart is about to be plucked out” is great, Chuka says. But what’s just as important, Chuka emphasizes, is that at Temple he felt cared for.

“Dr. Cooper treated me like a family member,” Chuka says.

“It’s like somebody’s taking care of you. It’s the best feeling,” he adds.

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