Connecting Heart to Heart

The healing, hope and wholeness Adventist Health strives to inspire often touches the hearts of the communities it serves. Sometimes that touch is literal, and patients find their physical hearts healed along with their spirits.

That kind of healing is what Sheila Thompson was seeking when she came to Adventist Health Portland’s Northwest Regional Heart and Vascular. After going through treatment for breast cancer, she discovered she had developed atrial fibrillation — also called Afib.

This condition, in which the heart beats irregularly and, often, too rapidly, left Thompson feeling fatigued in her body and foggy in her brain. Too often, she was stuck on her couch from weariness. Afib also increased her risk of stroke.

Thompson worked with Adventist Health cardiac electrophysiologist Brian Moyers to correct her Afib. They began with more conservative treatments, starting with medication. After trying several drugs without relief, she also underwent several cardioversions, procedures that attempt to reset the heart rhythm to normal through electrical shocks.

When those options failed to correct Thompson’s Afib, Moyers recommended cardiac ablation. During this surgery, small scars are made in specific heart tissue to stop faulty electrical signals from causing irregular heartbeats.

Thompson’s ablation had positive results, which lasted about six months. Her second ablation was less successful, as is the case for about 12 to 15% of ablation patients. Thompson, who was in the small percentage of Afib patients who don't find long-term relief from typical ablations, was running out of options. One option was to have a more extensive form of ablation that would leave her entirely dependent on a pacemaker for the rest of her life.

Knowing Thompson wanted to avoid a pacemaker if possible, Moyers suggested she visit with Thomas Molloy, Adventist Health Portland medical director of cardiac surgery. “He scheduled me for every cardiac test,” Thompson recalls. “They were very thorough. They’re like a special ops team.”

When Thompson’s results were in, Molloy recognized she was a candidate for cryomaze, a form of cardiac ablation that uses extreme cold to create the scarring that blocks faulty heart signals. For the small percentage of Afib patients who don’t get long-term relief from typical ablations, cryomaze offers a success rate of as much as 90%.

After her cryomaze surgery, Thompson is a believer. “It’s like night and day,” she says. With her heart beating regularly, her brain began to clear and her energy level improved. “My main focus is getting stuff done, and now I feel like I have enough energy to tackle it.”

Instead of sitting on her couch, Thompson has moved her couch out while she remodels her floating home on Portland’s Willamette River. And now that she’s not on medication that causes sun sensitivity, Thompson is “feeling better and looking forward to the summer.”

Adventist Health Portland values every chance to connect heart to heart with people while sharing the loving and healing power of Jesus Christ. That’s why the cardiac team at Northwest Regional Heart and Vascular appreciates their opportunity to heal patients mind, body, spirit … and especially heart.

Featured in: March/April 2020