How an Innovative AF Procedure is Bringing Patients From Across the Country to a Phoenix Hospital

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Wilber Su, MD, has championed a new way to perform a catheter ablation for atrial fibrillation at Banner Good Samaritan Medical Center in Phoenix.

Between 2 and 3 million people suffer from atrial fibrillation in the United States, says Dr. Su. "Traditionally, we've used heat to burn off the bad tissue" in the heart during the procedure, says Dr. Su. "However, with heat, there's a lot of uncontrolled collateral damage, and a lot of complications," he says.

Instead, Dr. Su inserts a cryoballoon catheter through the patient's groin up to the heart. Once inside the heart, a small balloon on the end of the catheter is filled with freezing gas and freezes off targeted tissue.

"By freezing off the tissue in a controlled environment, we're not causing collateral damage to surrounding tissue like with heating," he says. "More importantly, the intended ablation targets are very consistently ablated — it's simply elegant."

The cyroballoon catheter Dr. Su uses received approval from the Food and Drug Administration and came on the market just two years ago. Dr. Su saw the potential for dramatically reduced complications with the new technology, and brought it to his department. He trained other physicians at the hospital to use the new device: "anyone who wanted to learn, I taught," he says.                                                                                                 

His dedication has paid off: "It's safer, faster and more effective — and it's really taken over the treatment of atrial fibrillation," he says.

Performing a catheter ablation using a cyroballoon catheter is more expensive than more traditional techniques. "The hospital is lucky to break even," says Dr. Su. "If I was only concerned about the financial aspect, I'd be using the older technique," he says.

But the superiority of this new technique is clear. Dr. Su says that about half of his patients have had their catheter ablation done at another facility, and come to Good Samaritan for a redo. "I'm always very surprised when I go in" on redo cases, he says. "What should be done is not done, and I wonder, 'What did they do?'" With his procedure, "we're more likely to do it right the first time," he says.

The hospital board and administration has recognized that Dr. Su is a pioneer in this field, both improving outcomes and setting a higher bar for catheter ablation procedures. "They realize we're creating a new standard of care," he says, and have supported investments in the new technology.

Hospital governance is not alone in noticing Dr. Su's success. "Other physicians read about what I'm doing and send their patients down," he says. "We now do this on a daily basis, and I personally have done over 700 procedures since the launch."

"We are not the world's largest hospital, but we have patients flying across country to Phoenix to get their heart surgery done here, because we're the most experienced center using this new technology," he says.

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