Health Check: EX-MAZE for atrial fibrillation

It's been two-and-a-half months since Dr. Antony Chu performed a novel cardiac procedure on John Corcoran, whose medical issues began in October.

"I just didn't have the energy to walk around and do the things I normally do," said Corcoran, of North Attleborough.

He told his wife, a registered nurse, so she checked his heart rate.

"I could hear it. It was irregular. It was fast," Prigitte Corcoran said.

John Corcoran had an electrocardiogram at his doctor's office.

"I was wheeled in a wheelchair over to the emergency room at Miriam Hospital and was immediately put on medications to slow my heart down," Corcoran said.

Corcoran was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, or A-fib, a heart rhythm disorder that affects 2 million to 3 million people in the United States, young and old.

"They feel fluttering in their heart. Their heart rate itself is very irregular. And the atrial fibrillation itself is a description of the electrical condition in the heart," Chu said.

Corcoran's A-fib was severe.

Doctors even tried something called cardioversion to correct it.

"Which is when they take the paddles to your heart and they try to convert your heart back into normal rhythm," Prigitte Corcoran said, "and for him that wasn't happening."

John Corcoran was referred to Chu, director of complex ablation at Rhode Island Hospital, who was doing something new and state-of-the-art called EX-MAZE.

"The top left chamber is the part of the heart that we are concerned about the most with atrial fibrillation," Chu said.

Like the traditional minimally invasive treatment, a catheter with an electrode at the tip is inserted into a vein in the groin and threaded up through that vein inside the heart. The heat it gives off helps destroy the tissue responsible for the irregular heartbeat.

"Instead of just delivering energy on the inside, we deliver energy on the outside of the heart as well and the idea there being having a better long-term result," Chu said.

Corcoran had his procedure done on June 24, and his heartbeat is more regular.

"Life is returning to normal," he said.

Chu recently brought this new state-of-the-art approach to Rhode Island Hospital from Pennsylvania, where he'd been using EX-MAZE since 2009 with excellent results, he said. Corcoran was his first patient here.

Rhode Island Hospital is the only hospital in the Boston area to offer EX-MAZE.