A routine physical at Harry Mills’ hometown health clinic revealed a silent – but potentially serious – condition
“I had asymptomatic atrial fibrillation,” recalls the Charleston, W.Va. resident. “I didn’t even know I had it. … The nurse who took my pulse said, ‘Did you know you have an irregular heartbeat?’ And I said, ‘No.’ ”
The head of the facility’s cardiac rehabilitation unit confirmed the shocking news and Mills wasted no time in making an appointment with his primary care physician.
About 15 percent of strokes occur in people with atrial fibrillation, according to the American Heart Association. It is the most common irregular heart rhythm in the United States and originates in the atria, or top chambers of the heart. Instead of the impulse traveling in an orderly fashion, many impulses begin and spread through the atria, causing a rapid and disorganized heartbeat. Blood isn’t pumped completely out of the chambers, so it may pool and clot, leaving the risk of coming loose and lodging in an artery in the brain.
Following an EKG by his doctor and a series of tests by a local heart specialist, Mills was referred to Cleveland Clinic for treatment. “My local doctor realized it was an electrical problem in my heart and it wasn't his specialty,” he says.
Mills, having originated from Shaker Heights next door to Cleveland, was familiar with Cleveland Clinic. “My father had gone there and spoken very highly of it … He told me how impressed he was with the thoroughness and the kind treatment,” says the 67-year-old Mills.
In 2003 — more than 45 years after his father’s visit — Mills entered Cleveland Clinic to undergo catheter ablation therapy, offered when medications fail to help.
Walid Saliba, MD, performed a pulmonary vein antrum isolation to restore a normal heart rhythm. Dr. Saliba is Director of the Electrophysiology Lab, Director of the Atrial Fibrillation Center and a Staff Cardiologist in the Section of Cardiac Electrophysiology and Pacing in the Robert and Suzanne Tomsich Department of Cardiovascular Medicine at Cleveland Clinic.
Mills was equally impressed with his care. “I was so pleased with the treatment I got, especially the nurses,” he says. “When I went back for my first checkup, I went to Beachwood Mall and got gift certificates for the five nurses whose names I could remember.”
He spoke highly of Dr. Saliba as well. “He is a very fine man; I like him personally and I, obviously, like his work,” he says.
While at the hospital, Mills was asked to take part in a gene pool study related to atrial fibrillation. He not only agreed to, but also ended up recommending a family he came across in which all five siblings have the condition.
“I was really proud to be part of it, because, if it's genetic, maybe they can do something about it,” he says.
In addition to fond memories, Mills' Cleveland Clinic experience left him with more energy and — most importantly — peace of mind.
“My heartbeat has been regular ever since,” he says.