Debra Bowman is a busy woman. She's a registered nurse at Franciscan Physician Network Northridge Internal Medicine Crawfordsville, and she and her husband own a 400-acre cattle farm.
She needs to be healthy and at the top of her game - both for her nursing job and for her farm job which inherently carries a level of risk and injury and requires working on unlevel ground, with machinery and sometimes in seclusion.
As a nurse, Debra has frequently helped direct patients to Indiana Heart Physicians. Giving directions was easy: The front door was only a couple hundred feet from where she worked.
In 2017, however, the referral to Indiana Heart Physicians was for herself.
It started when Debra, then 62, noticed that she was becoming more tired for no specific reason. Then one day, she looked down to see that her shirt front was moving on its own, just over her heart, as if stirred by a current of air.
She knew something was wrong.
The diagnosis: atrial fibrillation, a condition where the heart beats too quickly and irregularly. In AFib, electric activity in the heart misfires, causing the heart valves to work less efficiently.
"Atrial fibrillation is one of the leading causes of stroke in the country," said Atul Chugh, MD, a medical cardiologist with Indiana Heart Physicians. "In the past, blood thinners were the only viable option for these patients. However, we are fortunate that in the current era we have other alternatives for these patients."
When treating AFib, physicians start with the most conservative of treatments, usually medications. Debra was prescribed a blood thinner and beta blocker, to regulate her heartbeat and she was referred to Dr. Chugh.
But the medications weren't enough to regulate Debra’s heart rhythm, and she was referred to an electrophysiologist - a cardiologist who specializes in heart arrythmia - at the Indianapolis office.
After a few more tests, Debra was told she was a candidate for cryoablation.
"Cryoablation helps to minimize triggers of AFib,” said electrophysiologist Smriti Banthia, MD. "We can guide a balloon catheter to the heart and use this device to freeze around the veins that trigger AFib."
This procedure is significantly more effective than medications alone in treating AFib, she added, and this proved true for Debra. After having the cryoablation done at the Franciscan Health Heart Center in Indianapolis, Debra went home with a prescription for a blood thinner - just a precaution to prevent blood clots - and no further symptoms.
With her farm work and the possible associated injuries in mind, she wondered if there was an alternative to taking the blood thinner. While effective, blood thinners can cause dangerous bleeding.
In speaking with her physicians, Debra learned about an implantable device, called the WATCHMAN implant, a safe alternative to blood thinners. The WATCHMAN device is implanted using a catheter placed through a small incision in the patient’s leg.
After an overnight stay at Franciscan Health Heart Center in Indianapolis, she returned to her Crawfordsville home and stopped taking blood thinners after about a month.
"My care was excellent, and I just knew I was in a good place," she said.
Debra's journey took her to different doctors for various medications and procedures, before she found the right combination to fit her lifestyle. Now back at work and healthy, Debra can draw on firsthand experience when discussing Franciscan's heart care services to her patients.
Don't Skip A Beat
Restore the rhythm of our heart. Franciscan Health's dedicated team of cardiac and AFib specialists provides a full spectrum of comprehensive cardiac care. Download your free AFib guide.