Prior to his recent experience at Virginia Mason, Dominik Musafia, 47, was "a skeptic of modern medicine." That's why it took him a while to see a doctor when he was having health problems.
A divorce attorney, Dominik is used to stress and fatigue from working long hours. But in the summer of 2013, he noticed that he was more than just a little tired. At a July 4th gathering, he was finding it difficult to play Frisbee with friends. His friends insisted he see a doctor, which he reluctantly did.
That physician, a cardiologist, found that Dominik was having premature atrial contractions (PACs), but said that there was absolutely nothing for him to be concerned about. "After stress testing, he told me I had the cardiovascular system of a 27-year-old," remembers Dominik, who still felt something wasn't quite right.
“When you've had heart problems, you really appreciate a return to normal life, whether you are engaging in 'extreme activities' or just walking up a flight of stairs.”
About six months later, Dominik's heart converted into persistent atrial fibrillation or AFib, a condition often characterized by an irregular and rapid heart rate. By itself, AFib is not considered life-threatening. However, if left untreated, it can increase the risk of stroke, heart failure and complications such as blood clots.
"I thought, 'well, I've been to a cardiologist and I'm told I need to live with it,'" says Dominik. "Also, I really didn't have time to deal with it." After a while, however, Dominik's heart health started deteriorating and he was having difficulty doing "ordinary" things like walking up the steps in his house. He took a friend's advice to see a cardiologist at the Heart Institute at Virginia Mason.
The Virginia Mason cardiologist "knew immediately" that the AFib Dominik was experiencing was serious and did an ultrasound that showed his heart had enlarged and his heart efficiency had substantially decreased. The cardiologist put Dominik on medications to lower and regulate his heart rate and he underwent two "cardioversions" in which he was sedated while attempts were made to shock his heart back into a normal rhythm. Likely due to the length of time he waited to come to Virginia Mason, both were unsuccessful.
Eventually, Dominik underwent cardiac ablation while in AFib. A catheter was inserted through the groin to the heart to eliminate the confused electrical signals within the heart's atrium that cause atrial fibrillation. His heart converted into regular rhythm during the procedure and after two days, Dominik was walking around normally, and back at work the following Monday. Within four months, he was completely off all medications and his heart continues to stay in rhythm.
"I feel as good as ever," says Dominik, who got married four months after the procedure. He spent his honeymoon in Fiji. When he and his wife went out in a kayak in stormy conditions on a multi-mile trek, Dominik says he relished being outdoors, on the water and embracing life to the fullest extent. "When you've had heart problems, you really appreciate a return to normal life, whether you are engaging in 'extreme activities' or just walking up a flight of stairs."