Diagnosis: The Grandmother with the Irregular Heartbeat

How doctors fixed a defective heart with a simple outpatient procedure.

Wednesday, Jul 20, 2011  |  Updated 4:41 PM CDT
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Diagnosis: Heart Trouble

NorthShore doctors corrected Georgann Morrissey's irregular heartbeat with an advanced procedure called cardiac ablation.


Georgann Morrissey had an irregular heartbeat. A very irregular heartbeat.

The 66-year-old grandmother, part-time nurse, avid gardener and power walker experienced heart palpitations that left her short of breath, light-headed and faint.

"The episodes would always subside," said Morrissey, "so I thought it was nothing." But it wasn’t.

In May 2010, her doctor realized Morrissey's pulse was extremely erratic. He outfitted her with a monitor to track her heart rate.

During the next month, Morrissey’s pulse dropped to 30 beats a minute or raced to more than 200 beats a minute.

Confronted with such wild fluctuations, Morrissey's doctor referred her to Westby Fisher, MD, Director of Cardiac Electrophysiology at NorthShore University HealthSystem.

The Diagnosis
Dr. Fisher diagnosed Morrissey with a type of arrhythmia called supraventricular tachycardia, or SVT.

“In Georgann’s case, her heart’s electrical signals didn’t work properly,” said Dr. Fisher, whose specialty is treating heart rhythm disorders. “An area of her heart had a short circuit that caused her heart to skip a beat and overcompensate with a rapid heart rate, or tachycardia.”

Morrissey was an excellent candidate for an advanced procedure called cardiac ablation, which uses heat to help patients with abnormal electrical connections in their hearts.

The Treatment
During an outpatient procedure, an electrophysiologist inserts a thin catheter into the blood vessels and guides it inside the heart. By artificially pacing the heart and using sophisticated imaging and mapping guidance systems, doctors can observe how electricity travels through a patient’s heart and pinpoint the exact location of a defective area. Then, using a heat source from radiofrequency or laser energy, they cauterize the heart tissue causing the problem.

During her procedure in July 2010, Morrissey recalls watching the heart monitors in the Cardiac Catheterization Lab at NorthShore Evanston Hospital.

“Once they found the location of my problem and corrected it, Dr. Fisher announced, ‘You’ll never have tachycardia again!’ ” she said. “He was right. I feel fantastic now. I knew everything was going to work out.”

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