10:34am Sunday 08 December 2019

Retired All-Pro NFL player feeling great after heart procedure at Loyola

MAYWOOD, Ill.  – Years after retiring as an All-Pro wide receiver in the NFL, Danny Abramowicz still enjoys a good workout.

But an irregular heartbeat called atrial fibrillation made it extremely difficult to exercise. “I didn’t have the energy,” he said. “It knocked out my desire.”

Mr. Abramowicz has resumed his exercise regimen after undergoing a procedure called a catheter ablation at Loyola University Medical Center. The procedure, performed by Smit Vasaiwala, MD, cauterized small areas inside the heart that were responsible for triggering Mr. Abramowicz’s irregular heartbeat.

“Mr. Abramowicz is a great example of how catheter ablation can restore a patient’s lifestyle,” Dr. Vasaiwala said.

Mr. Abramowicz has the energy again to walk, play tennis, lift weights and use the cardio equipment at the gym – without feeling his heart race. 

“I feel great, and I’m off almost all my medications,” he said.

For eight years, Mr. Abramowicz played wide receiver for the New Orleans Saints and San Francisco 49ers. In three seasons, he was among the NFL’s Top 10 receivers for receptions and receiving yards, and in 1969 he was voted All Pro. After retiring, he coached under Mike Ditka as special teams coordinator for the Chicago Bears and offensive coordinator for the Saints.

Today, Mr. Abramowicz is better known as host of the weekly show “Crossing the Goal” on the EWTN Catholic television network and as author of the book “Spiritual Workout of a Former Saint.” Mr. Abramowicz, 69, lives in Oak Park, Ill.

The atrial fibrillation Mr. Abramowicz experienced is the most common type of arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat). It’s caused by erratic electrical signals in the heart. Dr. Vasaiwala put Mr. Abramowicz on medications, the first line treatment. However, the drugs failed to control the atrial fibrillation he was experiencing.

Dr. Vasaiwala subsequently performed a catheter ablation to target the arrhythmia. He inserted a catheter (thin flexible tube) in a groin vein and guided it through blood vessels to Mr. Abramowicz’s heart. The tip of the catheter delivered radiofrequency energy, which heated and cauterized small amounts of tissue that were sending out erratic electrical signals.

Most patients remain free of atrial fibrillation after a single procedure. However, in some patients, including Mr. Abramowicz, a second procedure may be necessary. In a second ablation, Dr. Vasaiwala cauterized additional abnormal tissue responsible for generating atrial fibrillation in Mr. Abramowicz’s heart. Since then, he has done remarkably well.

Mr. Abramowicz said he now is able to “go out now and run around and wrestle with my grandchildren.”

More than 2 million Americans have atrial fibrillation. The number is increasing, due in part to the aging population and the obesity epidemic. A-fib is the most common form of irregular heartbeat. Electrical signals, which regulate the heartbeat, become erratic. Instead of beating regularly, the upper chambers of the heart quiver. Not all the blood gets pumped out, so clots can form. A-fib can lead to strokes and heart failure. A-fib symptoms include heart palpitations, dizziness, chest pain, fatigue, shortness of breath, fainting and lightheadedness.

Loyola performs more than 500 catheter ablations per year for atrial fibrillation and other heart rhythm disorders. Loyola’s team of expert electrophysiologists, advanced practice nurses, pacemaker clinic nursing staff, imaging experts and other professionals work together to manage the diagnosis and treatment of heart arrhythmias.

Loyola offers expertise in cardiac device management, including device implantation, lead extractions and medical management. Loyola’s state-of-the-art equipment allows physicians to use leading-edge technologies to perform procedures. Loyola is the only center in Illinois to be nationally ranked by U.S. News & World Report for Heart and Heart Surgery for 12 years in a row.

Loyola University Health System (LUHS) is a member of Trinity Health. Based in the western suburbs of Chicago, LUHS is a quaternary care system with a 61-acre main medical center campus, the 36-acre Gottlieb Memorial Hospital campus and more than 30 primary and specialty care facilities in Cook, Will and DuPage counties. The medical center campus is conveniently located in Maywood, 13 miles west of the Chicago Loop and 8 miles east of Oak Brook, Ill. The heart of the medical center campus is a 559-licensed-bed hospital that houses a Level 1 Trauma Center, a Burn Center and the Ronald McDonald® Children’s Hospital of Loyola University Medical Center. Also on campus are the Cardinal Bernardin Cancer Center, Loyola Outpatient Center, Center for Heart & Vascular Medicine and Loyola Oral Health Center as well as the LUC Stritch School of Medicine, the LUC Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing and the Loyola Center for Fitness. Loyola’s Gottlieb campus in Melrose Park includes the 255-licensed-bed community hospital, the Professional Office Building housing 150 private practice clinics, the Adult Day Care, the Gottlieb Center for Fitness, Loyola Center for Metabolic Surgery and Bariatric Care and the Loyola Cancer Care & Research at the Marjorie G. Weinberg Cancer Center at Melrose Park.

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